We may have four 2016 ballot measures addressing South Dakota’s stance on marijuana. New Approach South Dakota is hustling for signatures on its medical cannabis initiative. Bob Newland and his friends are attacking our pot laws by petitioning to put alcohol and tobacco on the same legal footing as marijuana.
Now we have #4, a measure to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. Decriminalize, not legalize—the distinction is important. Sponsors Ryan Gaddy, Jonathan Gilles, Christian Haider, and Dawn Van Ballegooyen of South Dakotans Against Prohibition aren’t seeking a free pass for pot smokers in this proposed initiative. Their proposal removes the criminal penalty for possession of an ounce or less of pot but leaves in place civil penalties of up to $100 and confiscation of the weed. Kids caught with pot still have to submit to drug awareness training (um, if they’ve got pot, they’re already aware of drugs) and ten hours of community service. Growing and selling marijuana remain crimes.
The big change this initiative offers is protecting pot users from penalties like losing student financial aid, public housing, unemployment benefits, driver’s license (though the initiative allows punishment for driving under the influence), or the ability to be a foster/adoptive parent.
The ounce-or-less initiative still contains a drafting error. Section 13 reads as follows:
SDCL 22-42-6. Possession of marijuana prohibited—Degrees according to amount; needs to be amended to include Class 1 misdemeanor to possess more than one counce but less than two ounces of marijuana. All other laws stand as is.
Come on, Gaddy, get it right. You can’t write a fragment into law. That text as is would not constitute a law. Be specific, and write it out:
Section 13: SDCL 22-42-6 shall be amended as follows: “Possession of marijuana prohibited–Degrees according to amount. No person may knowingly possess marijuana. It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to possess more than one ounce but two ounces of marijuana or less. It is a Class 6 felony to possess more than two ounces of marijuana but less than one-half pound of marijuana. It is a Class 5 felony to possess one-half pound but less than one pound of marijuana. It is a Class 4 felony to possess one to ten pounds of marijuana. It is a Class 3 felony to possess more than ten pounds of marijuana. A civil penalty may be imposed, in addition to any criminal penalty, upon a conviction of a violation of this section not to exceed ten thousand dollars.
One could also argue that Section 13 contradicts the rest of the initiative. “All other laws stand as is” (technically, as are) directs that only SDCL 22-42-6 be changed and that everything else the initiative would change stay the same. Write the Section 13 amendment properly, and you don’t need that awkward sentence.
Readers know that I’m a teetotaler on all fronts. I’d rather see Bob Newland’s prohibition measures pass than marijuana become easier to smoke. However, Gaddy and friends are still leaving penalties in place for pot use. They even continue to wag their finger at kids and say, “Don’t smoke pot!” The initiative the practical intent of this initiative appears to be (1) to decrease the penalty and disruption on users’ lives (though you can always avoid any disruption in your life by not smoking pot) and (2) to decrease the strain placed on our criminal justice system by non-violent offenses (although leaving the felony punishments for possession of more than two ounces suggests that change won’t be much).
Gaddy and friends are hosting a press conference this morning to discuss their initiative. I look forward to hearing their arguments as to why decriminalizing possession of an ounce of marijuan is beneficial and necessary public policy.