Report: Marijuana led to 1 in 10 arrests in South Dakota in 2018 – Argus Leader


Marijuana laws in South Dakota are disproportionately enforced against people of color and cost taxpayers millions of dollars, according to a study commissioned by a group looking to legalize the drug for adults in South Dakota.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the campaign committee that gathered more than 33,000 signatures to put the question of legalizing marijuana for both recreational and medical marijuana before voters this fall, commissioned a study that examined marijuana crime statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program.

More:Both medical and recreational marijuana are on the S.D. ballot. What to know

The study, conducted by a Criminology and Criminal Justice professor at Shenandoah University in Virginia, examined marijuana crime statistics from each county in the state, specifically looking at the age, sex and race of those arrested since 2007.

From 2009 to 2018, 31,883 people were arrested for marijuana in South Dakota, 95% of them for possession of two ounces or less.

In 2018 specifically, about one out of every 10 arrests made in the state was for a marijuana offense. And, on average, the arrest rates for Native Americans and Black South Dakotans has been over five times higher than for white people in the state for the 10-year period from 2007 to 2018, according to the report.

And with more than 60% of marijuana arrests being among those 25 years old or younger, Sioux Falls lawyer and former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson said during a virtual press conference that “almost an entire generation” of South Dakotans are being unnecessarily criminalized. 

“We are simply ruining too many lives in South Dakota (because of) possession of a small amount of marijuana,” he said. “That’s not in anyone’s best interest.”

Advocates of legal marijuana and specifically Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, have touted the amount of revenue legalized marijuana would generate for the state. That’s on top of the savings local and state governments would experience if marijuana possession was no longer a crime.

Constitutional Amendment A is one of two marijuana-related ballot measures before the voters this fall. Initiated Measure 26 would allow qualifying medical patients to be prescribed marijuana by a licensed physical.

It’s the third time since 2008 South Dakota voters will consider legalizing medical marijuana, and the first time recreational.

While the study didn’t provide data on how long marijuana offenders are jailed in South Dakota when caught, the report found that the cost of keeping someone in jail for one offense is about $90.

At that rate, the annual cost of jailing the 4,200 people arrested for marijuana in South Dakota in 2018 for 15 days each would be about $5.7 million.

New Approach South Dakota did not share information about how much it paid to commission the study.

Gov. Kristi Noem, dozens of lawmakers and the South Dakota State Medical Association are among those in opposition to both ballot measures.

No Way on A, the campaign committee formed in opposition to Constitutional Amendment A by the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is neutral on IM 26, with Chamber president David Owen saying last week that medical marijuana is “an inevitability.”

Internal polling done by his organization shows that 70% of South Dakotans surveyed in July were in favor of IM 26 and about 60% for Constitutional Amendment A. 

More:Poll: Most South Dakota voters support legalizing marijuana

However, it’s his group’s position that, of those who support Constitutional Amendment A, many don’t adequately understand the differences between the two.

Like IM 26, the amendment touches on medical marijuana. But rather than specifically creating a medical marijuana program, it simply directs the Legislature to create a medical marijuana system on its own.

Of those polled on Constitutional Amendment A, 26% said they supported the measure because of marijuana’s medical use, 19% because they believe marijuana helps people and 13% because it treats conditions.

Owen did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.