Angles: How should South Dakotans vote on marijuana ballot measures this election?

This November, South Dakotans will vote on two ballot measures concerning marijuana reform. 

Initiated Measure 26 establishes a detailed medical marijuana program in the state, allowing those with certain conditions to access the plant for medical purposes. Patients would be allowed to have at least 3 ounces or three plants in their homes.

Constitutional Amendment A would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Individuals would be allowed to possess and distribute up to 1 ounce of marijuana. 

The amendment further requires the state Legislature to institute a medical marijuana program and hemp distribution program by April 2022. 

Amendment A stipulates that marijuana products would have a sales tax of 15%. After covering administrative costs created by legalizing marijuana, 50% of revenue would go to public schools and the remaining 50% would go to the state’s general fund.

For the past year, proponents, such as South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, and opponents, like No Way on Amendment A, have been heavily campaigning in hopes of swaying voter’s opinion.

South Dakota is the first state to simultaneously put both medicinal and recreational marijuana measures on the ballot, and would be the first state to pass recreational use before medicinal use if Amendment A is adopted.

Kat Elgersma: South Dakotans should vote green for marijuana reform this November

I am not a resident of South Dakota and, thus, won’t be voting on marijuana reform in this upcoming election, nor was I of a legal voting age when my home state of Colorado became the first in the nation to legalize recreational use in 2012. However, I believe my experiences in my home state allow me to think about this reform from the perspective of someone who might have some idea of what its effects might be.

There are two marijuana initiatives up for a vote in South Dakota this election cycle: Initiated Measure 26 and Constitutional Amendment A.

I believe that South Dakota has the advantage now. Marijuana has been legal for years in other states, Colorado among them. We can now look to these for a better understanding of how it may be implemented, the risks and the rewards.

First, it should be acknowledged that while marijuana use comes with its own set of health risks, they are still much less than legal substances like alcohol and tobacco. And it’s not nearly as addictive as either of these.

From an economic standpoint, marijuana legalization is beneficial in a number of ways. Marijuana Business Daily calculates that every dollar spent at dispensaries or recreational marijuana stores, has a $2.50 benefit to the economy. Additionally, this money for the most part gets put back into the local economy. 

Recreational marijuana tends to bring in tourists from out of state who not only spend money on marijuana products but on other activities in the area. If the tourism benefit alone isn’t enough to illustrate this point, one can look at the millions of dollars in tax revenue that marijuana sales generate that go to fund education and infrastructure projects.

Legalization will also create jobs. The timing couldn’t be better, considering how unemployment rates soared due to the pandemic. The marijuana industry could be a source of income for many households that have been put in difficult positions due to job loss or pay cuts. The marijuana industry may be able to provide many opportunities because it’s still a fairly new industry. It has room for new entrepreneurs looking to start small businesses.

From a cultural standpoint, marijuana reform could also be positive for South Dakota. There is a certain appeal of “cannabis culture,” connected largely to a laid-back attitude and an inclusive mindset. Music and art stem from this community. There is a unity in the cannabis community, and it’s not just those who smoke weed that benefit from this attitude. 

Communities, especially in cities, learn from one another. I speak from personal experience when I say that Denver is not what it was prior to 2012. As the population has grown, it has blossomed culturally, much of it having to do with weed culture. 

Ultimately, cannabis culture is not just surrounding the drug itself. It is associated with an attitude that leads to inclusion, and it draws creative people who are able to add to the cultural richness of a city or state. While weed culture may not appeal to everyone, everyone still benefits from a more culturally diverse environment.

Under the current law, marijuana is a minor crime; however, the punishment for possession and sale is not. Sentences for such crimes include up to a year in prison, and if the amount is more than 2 ounces, it is a felony. That’s a whole year that those charged can’t be with their families and instead are in a place that is well-known to be an awful environment. 

What’s more is that a felony on a person’s permanent record severely limits their chances of being well-employed, making it harder for them to gain a sense of stability. In this way, a minor crime can follow a person for the rest of their lives.

Voting for marijuana reform does not mean that you personally have to partake, but you may benefit economically or culturally and may be able to save someone from a life that is harder than it has to be.

Noah Wicks: Vote no on Amendment A to keep marijuana reform out of South Dakota’s constitution

Constitutional Amendment A is a citizen-initiated ballot measure that would allow South Dakota citizens to buy, distribute and sell marijuana at 21 years or older.

But there are other — and better — ways to legalize recreational marijuana.

Legalizing recreational marijuana is a big step for South Dakota, especially if the state hasn’t even legalized marijuana for medical use. Adding it to the constitution is bold, especially when we don’t know the intricacies of how it will work.

If voters choose to add Amendment A to the constitution, the people of South Dakota must wait two years until the next general election to change it. That’s a long time for a law to be on the books in South Dakota, especially if it is flawed. Collecting enough signatures on the ballot to fix it will be a costly, arduous process. And right now, it’s hard to tell if change is necessary because people have not seen it in action.

As written, the amendment is flawed. It doesn’t require — or even allow for — the Legislature to revise laws regarding the recreational use of marijuana. Initiated Measure 26, the ballot measure for legalizing medical marijuana, includes a statement requiring the Legislature to regulate medical use of marijuana. 

Marijuana has been a divisive issue in the state, which makes it even more likely that down the road someone will want to change it. Medical marijuana appeared on the ballot in 2006 and 2010 and was struck down both times, 47.7% and 36.6%, respectively. This initiative isn’t even for medical use, it’s for recreational use, which is even more contentious here.

Opinions on marijuana have changed so much in the last 10 years that they’re likely to change even more in the future. Marijuana reform should be flexible so it can adapt and change based on the will of the people.

Plus, regulations for substances typically are not added as amendments. Tobacco and alcohol aren’t regulated in the constitution. They were passed by the Legislature. Marijuana shouldn’t be any different. 

If people want to change the state’s laws on marijuana, there are better ways of doing it. They should find a senator or representative who would be interested in sponsoring a bill in the Legislature. While it can also be difficult and time-consuming to pass bills that way, it is much easier to fix the mistakes that can come about as a result.

Don’t vote to make Amendment A a part of the constitution. Don’t make regulating it harder than it has to be. If you want to pass it, find another way. 

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