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Sheriff Thom, Senator Duhamel Give Weak Reasons to Oppose Marijuana Ballot Measures

Both Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and his public information officer turned Senator Helene Duhamel (R-32/Rapid City) oppose the two marijuana measures that have made the 2020 ballot:

The Sheriff says passing either would open “Pandora’s box” for more drug use and would complicate law enforcement efforts.

“If you look at the Initiative Measure 26, it references 95 sections to it, which in essence, makes it murky and difficult to enforce, and that’s by design,” said Thom.

Thom estimates that 95% of the people in the system have a drug or alcohol problem and he and Duhamel think legalizing more drugs would only increase their problems.

“We have a huge drug problem in Pennington County and I look at marijuana as a gateway drug for many people,” said Duhamel. “We are fighting methamphetamine on all fronts and I just can’t imagine throwing more into the mix” [Anderley Penwell, “Pennington County Sheriff and State Senator Oppose Marijuan Bills,” KOTA-TV, 2020.01.08].

Sheriff Thom’s assertion that IM 26 is murky and hard to enforce by design is baseless: the fact that he has trouble understanding the proposed medical marijuana law does not mean that the drafters of that law are trying to trick him. However, I do look forward to Sheriff Thom’s next arrestee coming to court and arguing that SDCL Title 22 on Crimes is 62 chapters and umpteen sections long and thus murky and designed to deprive us all of our rights.

Sheriff Thom’s assertion that 95% of folks having negative interactions with law enforcement have drug or alcohol problems may be slightly exaggerated—the National Institute on Drug Abuse puts the figure around 85%—but it’s a fair point to note that intoxicants and incarceration have a distinct relationship. However, when he says “drug or alcohol,” he reminds us that alcohol is a big part of that problem, and he and Senator Duhamel aren’t demanding that we close down the bars and liquor stores.

Senator Duhamel’s assertion about marijuana as a gateway drug gives her a chance to prop up Governor Noem’s meth campaign (while deftly avoiding her matron‘s expensive and risible catchphrase), but it is questionable at best. Sure, doing pot is dumb: THC screws up your brain chemistry and may impair brain development. But passing either IM 26 or Amendment A may not push anyone through Duhamel’s gate to worse drugs, since legalizing marijuana does not clearly increase marijuana usage. Youth drug use has declined even as legal access to marijuana has increased.

There may be some compelling policy arguments (and fun legal challenges!) to offer against both of the marijuana measures on our ballot in November. But Sheriff Thom and Senator Duhamel are just rehashing old arguments that lack evidence.


  1. grudznick 2020-01-09

    The Demon Weed is bad, it is bad. It screws up your brain chemistry and probably shrinks brain working and drops mental abilities that don’t come back after you quit toking. grudznick is looking out for you because I care.

  2. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    “State’s Attorney Dan Nelson said Brookings County law enforcement has seen a spike in the number of people using THC oil in vaping devices, which is a felony offense in South Dakota.

    “This is a national trend. Due to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, THC oil specifically, they hook it up to a vaporizer. Because Colorado is a nearby state, we’ve seen an increase in Brookings County with that substance in particular,” Nelson said.”

    “…the fact that it’s being brought in by the truckload from Colorado, it’s just difficult for law enforcement right now, with the THC oil, because there’s such an abundance of it”

    But meth is the number one problem.

    “Nelson noted that meth is still the No. 1 felony in Brookings County, so users are still finding it outside of Brookings and bringing it here.

    “If you’re a distributor, I’m going to try to send you to the penitentiary. If you’re a user, I going to try to do my best to make sure you get help. And I think this year we’ve done a good job of trying to draw the line between those two.” ”

  3. jerry 2020-01-09

    With legalization of medical marijuana, you get freed up space in the jails, you get court dockets that are damned near empty. You get law enforcement sitting on their hands playing cribbage and longing for the days when they could bust heads and toss sick folks in the hoosegow. Thom has been busting people for pot since Jesus Christ was a corporal, that is in the dude’s DNA. Duhamel is just another hypocritical fraud, who survived cancer and by God she didn’t use medical marijuana (or did she), so no one else is either.

    This is all about the money, not public health. Jails are imposing buildings that show the names of the politicos that built them. We drive by them every day, so it’s always a political advertisement on where your tax money has gone.

  4. Porter Lansing 2020-01-09

    Meh! What SD needs is a law that allows citizens to repair their own farm equipment and cars. Get out ahead of an issue that really matters to Dakotans.
    – A long, and likely expensive, ballot fight over the information spit out by your car and farm equipment is beginning in Massachusetts.
    Eight years after it was last in front of voters, the state’s so-called Right To Repair Law appears headed back to the November ballot, absent legislative action.

  5. Donald Pay 2020-01-09

    I can’t think of anything that screws up brain chemistry worse than sitting at a goddam slot machine for hours on end. And then some sweet young thing (or old thing), comes by and offers you an alcoholic beverage. More brain chemistry changes. Then you find your bladder filling up with all the drinks they offer, so you pry yourself away for a pee and a smoke. More brain chemistry changes.

    Yes, Helene grew rich from advertising brain chemistry changing activities and gateway drugs on her family’s TV station. The money from the gambling and booze industries rolled right into Helene’s pockets. How is she any different from some sleazy tweaker pushing meth or opioids? How much has Helene contributed to the drug problem, while pocketing all that money?

    I don’t mean to pick on Helene, but she needs to rethink her position, or explain it in a less hypocritical way. Alcohol is a far, far bigger issue, and so is having gambling establishments on every street corner. Pot can be a problem for people, as can coffee or soda. But, “gateway drug?” That’s terminology from the 1980s, Helene, and it’s discredited.

  6. Eve Fisher 2020-01-09

    Speaking of rotting brain chemistry, there’s wet brain, or the final stages of alcohol poisoning ( There’s also the almost 11,000 people killed annually by drunk drivers in the US. There’s also the numbers of people killed by cirrhosis of the liver, and the 29% of all suicides who are found with alcohol in their system. Alcohol is also the ultimate gateway drug – I volunteer at the pen, and I can tell you that no one there went straight from clean as a whistle to drugs of any kind without beginning with alcohol. America’s legal drug of choice, more dangerous, more deadly, and far more violence triggering than marijuana ever has been or will be.

    Legalize it, tax it, supervise it, and then maybe we can get a handle on meth.

    Oh, and despite State’s Attorney Dan Nelson saying that “If you’re a user, I going to try to do my best to make sure you get help”, most meth users still go straight to the pen, not to treatment centers (which cost a fortune, and our state is certainly not funding them), and I can’t tell you how sick I am of seeing them there. 18 year old meth heads – going cold turkey (and it takes about a year to get the brain unhooked, with treatment, and they don’t get a lot at the pen – one hour of chemical dependency classes twice a week), bouncing of walls, minds jagged and confused, desperate for a fix, and as soon as they get out, most of them do it again. Because they didn’t get treatment or rehabilitation, just punishment. And it doesn’t work.

  7. Donald Pay 2020-01-09

    You know, I never voted for a sin industry. On all the gambling votes, I voted against every one. I voted no on Newland’s pot efforts. Sorry, Bob. I recently voted against pot here in Dane County. I’m for decriminalization, but I hate big industries, and “sin” is the biggest industry there is. So, I don’t vote for sin, not because it’s sin, but because it’s an industry. I don’t care what individuals do so much as I care that someone is making a buck off their particular weakness or issue or whatever it is.

    If you go to Pierre, you run into the booze and gambling lobbyists everywhere. Horrible, horrible people. I used to go to their lobbyist bashes because they served free booze to everybody. Great folks when they are following Karl Marx. Horrible people when they represent an industry.

  8. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    Yes, a marijuana corporation is still a corporation.

  9. jerry 2020-01-09

    Corporations are people

  10. Bob Newland 2020-01-09

    We ALL make money off other folks’ weaknesses. That is, in fact, the ONLY way we make money.

  11. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    And we are the government. So we are all individual private-public partnerships onto ourselves….

    We need some group theory and some topology to figure this out….

  12. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    So people have a weakness for watching Hallmark movies, and that is why they make money?

  13. Bob Newland 2020-01-09

    You answered yourself, McTag.

  14. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    Those dern movies…those Christmas movies are a gateway to the Valentine’s Day movies and the Spring Wedding movies.

    Well, better start filming those in South Dakota then if we want to make some money.

  15. Robert McTaggart 2020-01-09

    Here is an idea, we can put a little house on the prairie, and watch a small town and its shenanigans on a weekly basis.

    …but the girl from the big city (Minneapolis?) will end up choosing to live in the small town in South Dakota after each episode just like the Hallmark movies.

  16. bearcreekbat 2020-01-09

    A visit to Cory’s link to the research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, indicates “the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances.”

    For the minority of people who do try other drugs such as meth the “gateway” idea has a unique danger that is likely an unintended side effect from criminalizing marijuana invovlement. When lawmakers declare acquisition of marijuana a crime, the only way to access it is through the black market. And the black market is a lot like Walmart, it offers more options than a single illegal substance.

    Hence by criminalizing marijuana lawmakers unconsciously encourage exposure to whatever other forbidden fruits might be available in the most easily accessible black market.

    Legalization would pretty much end “gateway” oportuntities for other unlawful substances or activities.

    Marijuana’s label as a gateway drug is likely more a case of mistaken identity of cause for correlation.

    As far back as 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences found that, although marijuana was the most used illegal drug, it was also the drug that people were most likely to have access to. The Institute found no evidence that abuse of other illegal drugs was an effect of marijuana use. If gateway drugs are looked at fairly, underage tobacco and alcohol use is the real culprit as most people indulged in smoking or drinking before trying marijuana. Scientific reports continue to support this data.

    The most obvious reason for marijuana’s label as a gateway drug is simple – marijuana is illegal in the majority of states. When people go through dealers to access marijuana, they then have much easier access to harder drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. A marijuana dealer on hand means people looking for a different high have easier access to those substances merely by association within illegal circles.

  17. Debbo 2020-01-09

    Porter, the market for 1980s John Deeres is up. 4440s are the favorites. They’re very sturdy and they’re Repairable!!

    Back to the Demon Weed. 😆😆😆
    Doesn’t matter what the change is or what science supports it, there will always be some who fear it. Same here. Wish they’d just not use it then. It’s not like they have to. 🙄

  18. Porter Lansing 2020-01-10

    We liberals assume that any institution or set of rules exists solely to serve it’s stated purpose, and that it is therefore just common sense to tweak and change things to achieve the best results in any particular situation.
    – South Dakota inveterate conservatives are more likely to see the rules as a worthy end in and of themselves: a source of stability, continuity and trust. They believe if individuals tweak and change them to suit their personal comfort, that could undermine these crutch-like institutions.
    -South Dakota’s great challenge over the last seventy five years has been to find a balance between the demands of tradition and the possibilities of modernity, changing just enough to hold its place in modern, multicultural America while still symbolizing the ways some things can stay the same.

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