South Dakota cannabis advocates behind a dual effort to legalize medical and adult use cannabis via the state’s November ballot announced a report on Tuesday that found that one out of ten arrests overall were tied to cannabis.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the campaign behind Amendment A and Measure 26, released the report, which used U.S. Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program data.
The campaign held a news conference announcing the report and urged voters to cast their ballots in favor of both initiatives, which, as Cannabis Wire recently reported, would be the first time that voters in a state legalized both adult use and medical cannabis at once.
“I am someone that is a strong supporter of law enforcement, but I am also a strong supporter of this amendment to legalize small amounts of marijuana in South Dakota. In my view, we are simply ruining too many lives in South Dakota for possessing small amounts of marijuana. That’s not in anyone’s best interest,” Brendan Johnson, former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota, said during the news conference.
Johnson echoed one report finding, which is that younger adults have made up the majority of cannabis-related arrests in South Dakota, which has a trickle down effect that creates barriers to college education, housing, and employment, among other issues.
“It’s also meant that we need bigger jails. We need more police officers, more judges. The prohibition of marijuana in South Dakota is incredibly expensive,” Johnson said. The report found that, based on arrest data and law enforcement costs, each cannabis arrest costs South Dakota about $4,000.
Some key findings from the report, which was authored by Jonathan Gettman, an associate professor of criminal justice at Shenandoah University:
- In 2018, about one in ten arrests in South Dakota were somehow linked to cannabis, and most of these arrests were for small amounts of cannabis. Cannabis-related arrest numbers have also risen over time.
- Of all cannabis-related infractions between the years 2007 and 2016, an overwhelming majority (98.2%) didn’t involve another type of crime.
- Showing the racial disparity in arrests in the state, Native Americans and Black residents were arrested at five times the rate of white residents between 2007 and 2016.
- Young South Dakotans have borne the brunt of cannabis arrests, too. Between 2007 and 2016, 63% of all cannabis-related arrests were of South Dakota residents younger than 25.
If a recent poll is an indication, there’s a good chance that voters will pass both measures in November. Public Opinion Strategies and marketing firm Lawrence and Schiller recently conducted a poll on behalf of “No Way on A,” a group opposed to adult use cannabis, that found that roughly 70% of voters support Measure 26, which would create a statewide medical cannabis regime, and about 60% of respondents would cast their vote in favor of Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize adult use cannabis.
“On a qualitative basis, the enforcement of marijuana laws consumes criminal justice resources. From the moment of arrest, the costs begin to accumulate. It can be argued that the police and the courts have a policy of reducing the cost of enforcement of marijuana laws, whatever the true cost may be,” the report concluded. “However, the most effective way of reducing the costs of marijuana laws is to reduce the penalties used to sanction marijuana users.”