Melissa Mentele of New Approach South Dakota reports a disappointing (for her and her supporters) change in the prison/jail fiscal statement for her organization’s recreational cannabis initiative. In a Facebook video, Mentele says that, several days ago, the Legislative Research Council told her that the analysis they had done so far had found $42.5 million in savings in incarceration costs over ten years.
$4.25 million in annual savings just in incarceration—that doesn’t include the tax revenues from marijuana sales, the license fees for opening cannabis establishments, or the broader economic impact that would drive sales tax revenues up in other sectors. Senate Bill 77, which comes into effect today, now requires such a broader fiscal analysis for any initiative, but since Mentele’s petitions underwent the LRC review process and hit the streets before the enactment of SB 77, her initiatives are not subject to that new requirement. However, if LRC were to look at Colorado’s 2016 revenue from taxes, licenses, and fees and divide by our states’ population ratio, they could estimate that South Dakota could rake in $19.6 million from Mentele’s recreational cannabis initiative.
Save $4.25 million on jail costs, add $19.6 million in revenue—this one initiative could boost the state’s annual budget by $23.9 million. Those figures would certainly help New Approach sell its measure to the voters.
But New Approach won’t get those numbers. In a video posted to Facebook yesterday, Mentele says LRC changed its mind about the jail cost estimate. In the analysis released yesterday, LRC says that the recreational cannabis initiative will only save the state $2 million over ten years, or $207,000 annually, in jail costs.
Mentele explains the switcheroo:
LRC calculates the reduced jail savings solely from Section 8 of the initiative, which decriminalizes possession of marijuana paraphernalia. To make the other 95% of the originally reported savings disappear, LRC points to Section 2 of the initiative:
Section 2. Notwithstanding any other law, the following acts are not unlawful under law of any subdivision or be a basis for seizure or forfeiture of assets under South Dakota law
- Possessing, consuming, growing, using, processing, purchasing, or transporting an amount of cannabis that does not exceed the possession limit;
- Transferring one ounce or less of cannabis and up to six immature cannabis plants to a person who is twenty one years of age or older without remuneration;
- Controlling property where actions described by this Act occur; and
- Assisting any other person who is twenty one years of age or older in any of the acts described in this Act [Recreational cannabis initiative, Section 2, received by Secretary of State 2017.03.27].
LRC reads that opening line about subdivisions and sees a crucial omission of state law:
The remaining marijuana decriminalization provisions of this measure are found in Section 2. The language only decriminalizes marijuana under the laws of “any subdivision” (cities, counties, etc.). However, marijuana convictions in South Dakota are charged under state law, As a result, these provisions have no practical effect. Had Section 2 been written to apply to state law, as Section 8 was for marijuana paraphernalia, additional prison and jail cost reductions would have accrued [Legislative Research Council, Prison/Jail Population Cost Estimate Statement on recreational cannabis initiative, 2017.06.30, p. 3].
That’s not just jail savings disappearing; that’s the “practical effect” of most of the initiative. LRC is saying that this initiative will let you have your bong, but Marty Jackley (or his successor) and DCI will still be able to bust you for growing, selling, buying, holding, or using anything you might put in that bong.