Local law enforcement is not on board with efforts to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana use.
"Marijuana typically leads to harder drugs," Madison Police Chief Justin Meyer said.
Neither he nor Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg know of individuals who have used marijuana in the same way that many folks use alcohol -- recreationally and responsibly.
"They are few and far between," Meyer said. "I know very few that haven't at least dabbled in other drugs."
The two men answered questions about the two ballot measures in response to a public information campaign launched earlier this year by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. Currently, South Dakota is one of only six states in which marijuana is illegal.
Thirteen states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, have decriminalized marijuana use. Thirty-five states, including North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa, have medical marijuana programs. In only 11 states has the recreational use of marijuana been legalized.
South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett announced in December that his office had validated Initiated Measure 26, which would legalize marijuana for medical use. The measure required 16,961 valid signatures and, based on a random sample, received 25,524. Melissa Mentele, executive director of New Approach South Dakota, is listed as the sponsor.
The Attorney General's Statement, which explains the measure, indicates that South Dakota patients with a registration card would be able to use "marijuana and marijuana-based products to treat or alleviate debilitating medical conditions certified by the patients' practitioners." The measure is lengthy, including 95 sections, and is expected to require judicial or legislative clarification.
While Walburg is aware that marijuana may have medicinal benefits, he's concerned about enforcement issues. What happens on a routine traffic stop if an individual is carrying marijuana?
"It's going to be hard for me to distinguish between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," he said.
This would be especially true if the individual is not carrying the registration card. Walburg can only speculate how an investigation would proceed.
Meyer has another concern.
"Medical marijuana is a gateway to fully-legalized marijuana," he said.
Thus far, that has not proven to be true in all cases. New Mexico and Virginia have both allowed medical use since the 1970s, but have not legalized recreational use. However, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Nevada and Colorado legalized medical use two decades later and had legalized recreational use within 15 years.
Like Walburg, Meyer does not refute the possibility that marijuana may have medicinal uses. However, he's concerned that if marijuana is not regulated in some way, the patient may not know the strength of the marijuana or the effect it will have.
"Any other medication has to be dispensed by a pharmacy," he said.
Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, was validated in January, according to a press release from the Secretary of State's office. To qualify for the November ballot, the petition required 33,921 signatures. The press release indicates that based on a random sample, 36,707 valid signatures were received. The bill's sponsor was former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson.
The AG's Statement indicates that the possession, use, transport and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia would be legal for individuals who are 21 or older, but possession and distribution would be limited to quantities of one ounce or less.
The state Department of Revenue would issue marijuana-related licenses for those engaged in any aspect of the business, and a 15% tax would be imposed to cover costs related to implementing the amendment. Any remaining revenue would be equally divided between the support of public schools and the state's general fund.
Proponents argue that the amendment would free law enforcement to focus on violent crimes, human trafficking and methamphetamine use, but neither Meyer nor Walburg agree with that assessment.
Walburg said a Colorado sheriff spoke at a conference he attended and the picture he painted differed from that of proponents. The sheriff, whose name Walburg could not recall, indicated an increase in property crimes after marijuana was legalized, including thefts and burglaries, and an increase in DUI arrests following accidents due to marijuana use.
Meyer has heard the same thing.
"You're going to see an increase in impaired drivers," he said, noting that marijuana impairs cognitive abilities and slows reaction times.
Neither buys the argument that marijuana use now is no different than alcohol use during the Prohibition and therefore should be legalized.
"Are we going to get rid of methamphetamine? Are we going to get rid of cocaine? That doesn't justify legalizing them," Meyer observed, establishing a different comparison.
Based upon what he heard at the conference, Walburg is also concerned that legalizing recreational use could have an adverse financial effect on families. He said that in Colorado, individuals have lost their homes and families have gone broke since marijuana was legalized.
"Instead of buying groceries or paying bills, they use that money to buy marijuana," he indicated.
Both Meyer and Walburg believe marijuana is addictive, mentally if not physically.
"They become dependent because they like how it makes them feel," Walburg said.
In addition, because marijuana is sometimes laced with other products and because the amount of THC in marijuana can vary widely, Meyer said legalized marijuana could lead to an increase in ER visits.
"You don't know how strong that joint is; some can have the same effects as LSD," he indicated.
Because the tax revenue generated would not be used to address local problems, neither man felt that benefit offset the potential problems. Walburg compared it to the alcohol tax which is earmarked for public safety and prosecution at the local level.
"There's no provision for the county to get anything," he said about the marijuana tax.
The bottom line for both men is that law enforcement experience outweighs the arguments of proponents.