Press "Enter" to skip to content

Official Fiscal Analyses of Marijuana-Related Ballot Measures Don’t Add Up

I smell something funny in the fiscal impact statements on the marijuana-related ballot measures currently being petitioned around South Dakota.

The Legislative Research Council has determined that the measure from South Dakotans Against Prohibition to decriminalize possession of marijuana would result in 3,174 fewer convictions each year. The LRC does not break down how many of those convictions currently result in prison time, but it concludes that the net savings on court and incarceration would $731,742 per year. That’s $230.54 per conviction.

The LRC previously analyzed the fiscal impacts of Bob Newland’s proposals to penalize the transfer of alcohol and tobacco the same as the transfer of marijuana. The LRC concluded that the alcohol ban would convict 685 people a year and put 417 of them in the pokey, at an annual cost of $4,753,805. That’s $6,939.86 per alcohol conviction. The tobacco ban would convict 263 and incarcerate 161 at a cost of $1,840,181. That’s $6,996.89 per tobacco conviction.

Newland’s measures propose the same level penalties for alcohol and tobacco as are currently authorized for marijuana. Yet the LRC calculates that the cost of those new alcohol and tobacco convictions would be 30 times the cost of current marijuana convictions.

Also strangely, while far more people in South Dakota use alcohol or tobacco than use marijuana (just among kids in 2012–2013, 6.2% used marijuana, 8.0% smoked tobacco, and 17.8% engaged in binge drinking), the LRC calculates that alcohol convictions under the Newland proposal would equal less than a quarter of the marijuana convictions averted by decriminalization; tobacco convictions, a mere twelfth.

If we apply the average cost per conviction cited in the two bans, decriminalizing marijuana and taking 3,174 convictions off the books each year should save the state of South Dakota $1,121,420,000. $1.1 billion—that can’t be true, since the entire FY2016 corrections budget is only $94 million; the entire general fund budgets $1.4 billion. The ACLU estimates that the national cost of enforcing marijuana laws is $3.6 billion. The LRC’s numbers for the cost of marijuana convictions thus seem more reasonable than the extrapolation I get from the costs for alcohol and tobacco prohibition. I would thus tentatively conclude that the LRC has overstated the costs of convictions under Newland’s proposals while underestimating the number of convictions (unless the LRC is editorializing that the Attorney General would not prosecute alcohol and tobacco bans with the same vigor as the current marijuana ban).

But at least on those measures we have numbers to analyze. Turning to medical marijuana, the LRC says the measure from New Approach South Dakota (which says it now has an office and 7,240 signatures) would “prevent a number of marijuana convictions.” The LRC does not tell us that number, diverging from the specificity of the decriminalization measure and the other two marijuana-related measures. Instead, this fiscal impact statement concludes that legalizing medical marijuana has caused more marijuana use, dependence, and abuse. Thus, with more people going to jail for recreational marijuana use, the medical cannabis initiative “will likely have a minimal net impact on prison and jail costs.”

Notice that the LRC did not work that hard on the other measures, trying to estimate social effects that would lead to other convictable crimes.

My experience with other issues is that the Legislative Research Council is a bastion of reliable and independent legal analysis. The strange numbers in the fiscal statements on the marijuana-related ballot measures suggests the LRC has slipped a bit… or at least has done some math it hasn’t explained.


  1. Bob Newland 2015-09-01

    The only numbers that can be cited reasonably accurately are the numbers that exist, i.e., current prosecutions and the costs thereof for cannabis violations. The LRC has been given the duty of estimating the impact of proposed laws, so it made estimates. The LRC can hardly be faulted for trying to come up with numbers without adequate knowledge–knowledge that is impossible to obtain–of all of the variables which would affect those numbers should the proposed changes go into effect.

    Now, if Lynn would tell us what is about the right amount of prison time to assign someone who puts a harmful substance into his/her body, the LRC would at least have a starting place.

  2. Porter Lansing 2015-09-01

    LRC has slipped a bit…??? The council may have had a “joint session”. Decriminalizing weed will of course save Sodak money. It’s been approved by police forces nationwide. Very few citizens in South Dakota smoke pot; mostly seniors. Who wants their friends and acquaintances continually hassled by regulations of a benign marijuana policy?

  3. jeniw 2015-09-01

    Wouldn’t data from Colorado help has a starting point?

    Since the legalization of having/using pot has the number of pot related arrests in Colorado decreased?

  4. Porter Lansing 2015-09-01

    Hi, jeniw … We’ve not been introduced but may I respond to your inquiry about CO, where I’ve lived since leaving Sodak 40 years ago. Marijuana was decriminalized over twenty years ago and no one has been arrested for small amounts, since. Before legalization if a citizen was found to have possession of pot, a ticket for a fine of $100 was written with no court appearance was necessary…the pot was confiscated. Typically, decriminalization means no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption. Police have better things to concentrate on and fully support decriminalization.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2015-09-01

    If one gets jail time for alcohol and not weed, then comparing costs is apples to oranges. At $230 per conviction, there is very seldom jail for marijuana.
    The real question is if people do more crime while under the influence of a particular mind altering substance whether it is alcohol, marijuana or hard drugs. That is when the most crime happens.

  6. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    For 2014, The State Patrol reported that troopers issued 5,546 citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Of those, 674 — about 12.2 percent — involved suspected marijuana use, either alone or in combination with other intoxicants. For 354 of those citations — about 6.4 percent of the total, or one in every 16 — marijuana was believed to be the only substance involved.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    With its small population and large landmass, Wyoming poses unique logistical challenges when it comes to gathering signatures for a petition.

    But those challenges haven’t dissuaded Chris Christian, executive director of the Wyoming branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.

    For two weeks now, Christian and nearly 300 others across the state have been working to spread a petition to put legalization of medical marijuana on the November 2016 ballot. To do so, they must collect 25,673 signatures from registered voters and have them turned in and verified by Feb. 8.

    Read more:

  8. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    A drive to put a medical marijuana measure on North Dakota’s 2016 general election ballot is the expected fallout from the 2015 Legislature’s refusal to consider even a study of the issue. Rejecting a study was a mistake. It suggested that legislative minds are closed to even examining controlled medicinal uses of cannabis, the efficacy of which for some chronic conditions has been demonstrated. On this particular issue, it is safe to assume legislators are out of sync with a majority of North Dakotans.

    Forum editorial: Let’s vote on medical marijuana

  9. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    “This is medicine. It is going to the people that are the highest of risk, the elderly, cancer patients people who have compromised immune systems,” said Kathy Gillespie, co-owner of the cultivator Nevada Pure. “Why shouldn’t it be similar standards to what you would feed your kids?” In Nevada, independent laboratories check the quality of the cannabis, a regulatory hurdle not always erected in other states.

  10. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling asked voters in Iowa and New Hampshire if states should be able to execute their own marijuana laws without the involvement of the federal government, or if the feds should arrest and prosecute those who are following state drug laws. The survey, released Tuesday, found a supermajority of voters in both states believe that the feds should not interfere with state marijuana laws — 71 percent in Iowa and 73 percent in New Hampshire.

  11. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    Why people want to leave cannabis rights in the hands of foreign drug lords who operate with impunity remains a mystery.

  12. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    A man sentenced to life without parole on a marijuana-related charge was freed Tuesday from a Missouri prison after being behind bars for more than two decades — a period in which the nation’s attitudes toward pot steadily softened. “I spent a third of my life in prison,” said Mizanskey, now 62, who was greeted by his infant great-granddaughter. “It’s a shame.”

  13. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    Hear me now?

  14. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    Regardless of gender, race, profession, etc., it should be up to the person suffering from PTSD to decide if cannabis is an option. As mentioned in Mitch Earleywine’s article ‘Letting Cannabis Help PTSD‘, ‘the right strain’ can have significant benefits. I have yet to find that strain. However, the possibility such a strain exists is the only thing keeping me from gargling a 9mm. I have experienced waves of hope and optimism for the first time in three years. I can’t remember what happy feels like but finally believe it is possible.

    Veteran: We Should Not Have to Break Laws to Find Cannabis Relief for PTSD

  15. larry kurtz 2015-09-01

    Imagine letting veterans die because people are too stupid to save them.

  16. Lynn 2015-09-01

    Aside from the distorted claims someone was thrown in jail for 20 years just for smoking one joint and other pro-pot distorted propaganda it will be interesting to see what this new anti-legalization group here in South Dakota has for stats and trends here in South Dakota and what has happened in states such as Colorado. There seems to be a conflict with what is claimed by the pro-pot advocates and what’s actually going on which doesn’t sound too good. No surprise there.

    I’d love to hear from Rep Deutsch

  17. Lynn 2015-09-01

    Rep Deutsch was evidently in Colorado for a conference and mentioned some disturbing trends from legalization. It would be great if he could share with us what was covered there that could help educate South Dakotans with these upcoming ballot initiatives and with Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe opening up their pot den this winter.

  18. larry kurtz 2015-09-02

    Fred Deutsch has all the brains of a dry sponge.

  19. larry kurtz 2015-09-02

    My own prognosis resides in a Catch 22: since cannabis has kept my intraocular pressure low i don’t qualify for New Mexico’s medical card meant to treat the glaucoma that has not developed.

    The state Department of Health says it will decide within 30 days who will receive the first new nonprofit marijuana producer’s licenses in five years through the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. Gov. Susana Martinez directed the department in July to make the identities of the producers public record. But the department has continued to refuse to release the information, pending a formal change to its regulations.

  20. Lynn 2015-09-02

    “Gun Shots Reported In Sioux Falls Neighborhood” Ah yes! Just another peaceful in Potopia. Oh my! The police reports we could go thru.

    SIOUX FALLS, SD – Two people are facing a string of charges for allegedly firing a gun in a Sioux Falls neighborhood.
    Gunshots were heard near Madison St. and West Ave. just before 7 Tuesday night. Several witnesses reported seeing a tan suburban leave the area around the same time.
    An officer spotted the vehicle a short time later and was eventually able to get the driver to stop on Phillips Avenue near the Orpheum Theatre.
    A search of the SUV turned up a hand gun, a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
    The driver, 24 year-old Khiry Smith was arrested on Possession of Concealed Weapon, Possession of Marijuana less than 2oz, Possession of Paraphernalia, Open Container, Failure to Yield to Emergency Vehicle and a Red Light Violation. The passenger, 28-year-old Jaunte Berry was arrested on Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Reckless Discharge of a Firearm from a vehicle, Possession of a Concealed Weapon, Possession of Marijuana less than 2 oz, and Possession of Paraphernalia.
    At this time there have been no reports of any injury or property damage from the shots fired.

    Keloland September 1, 2015, 10:05 PM

  21. larry kurtz 2015-09-02

    Correlation is causation like Linda Daugaard does yoga.

  22. larry kurtz 2015-09-02

    Just because bacon is legal doesn’t mean people should rub it on their glutei.

  23. larry kurtz 2015-09-02

    Guns are gateway drugs.

Comments are closed.