Pennington County, Rapid City, Box Elder and Meade County law enforcement are against recreational marijuana.
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, Pennington County Sheriff-elect Brian Mueller, Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, Meade County Sheriff-elect Pat West, Box Elder Asst. Police Chief Chris Misselt and Rapid City Asst. Police Chief Scott Sitts sat on a panel Wednesday for a united stand against Initiated Measure 27, which voters will see on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Allender and West were the only people to speak on the panel hosted in the Public Safety Building.
“This is not about politics, it’s about public safety,” said Allender, who retired as the Rapid City police chief in 2014 before his mayoral election in 2015.
“These men sitting to my left and right are charged by their constituents to protect communities, and we hear the call of our citizens and our other elected leaders to bring about a safer community and get a handle on the drug problems and get a handle on the rising crime rate and all of the problems associated with that,” Allender said.
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IM 27, if approved, would legalize the possession, use and distribution of marijuana for those 21 years or older, although people could only possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It would also decriminalize possession for the same amount or less for those of age.
Allender said the panel had almost 180 years put together of law enforcement experience. He said the measure is not simply about a choice for a new product to enhance someone’s life — it has severe consequences when brought into a community.
“My personal statement is that I believe we should be, in South Dakota, open-minded enough to learn the lessons from other states,” he said. “We do not have to reinvent everything on our own. We can learn from other examples, we can see what other people in other parts of the country have experienced, and we can make informed decisions on those things.”
He said the panel members and their organizations ask people to recognize that legal recreational marijuana will bring about a less safe and less productive community, and that it won’t make South Dakota stronger.
West said he was on the panel as a concerned father, law enforcement officer and law enforcement liaison for Protecting South Dakota Kids, a Rapid City-based group that is advocating against IM 27. West said he was concerned that legalization would expand the black market and put kids at risk.
“That expands the opportunity for black market because if you saturate the community with marijuana, it needs to go somewhere because there people aren’t going to throw it away,” he said. “They’re going to start selling that to anybody that they can to include our children and our community.”
West said he believed the proponent groups for IM 27 are in it for the money.
In an interview after the panel, Mueller said the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has been looking at IM 27 and studying the impacts of legalized marijuana on other states over the last several years. He said they’ve also spoken with a lot of partners in other states.
“They continue to reach out to us and say, ‘Do not let the genie out of the bottle in your state, you will not get it put back in,’” he said. “We understand what the negative impacts are on the community as far as drug-related accidents and fatalities, the impact that giving more youth access to the drug in the community is going to have. We’re very happy to be part of this effort that is encouraging people to vote no on this measure.”
According to the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office’s annual report, there has been a 17% decrease in marijuana arrests from 2012 to 2021.
Mueller said law enforcement in the community over the last couple of years has not put a heavy emphasis on arresting people for low-level personal use for marijuana, and no one is incarcerated in the jail with possession as their only charge.
“As far as legalizing or not legalizing, it’s not going to have a big impact specifically on what we’re doing proactively with marijuana in the communities,” he said. “It’s not been an emphasis for a while. We’ve really placed a big emphasis on methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl, getting that out of our communities.”
In a news release about the panel, the offices cited for every dollar collected from marijuana taxes in other states, it costs the taxpayer $4.50 in societal impact costs.
After the panel discussion, West said that figure comes from the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s 2019 study on potential impacts of marijuana legalization in the Midwest. He said societal impacts include mental health issues, drug enforcement, rehab facilities, and people who may have overdosed.
West said if the measure — which does not include regulations or licensing — does pass, they’re going to have to reevaluate how they’re going to deal with people in society. He said that extends to homelessness, potential mental health issues, and possible cognitive development issues in kids, teens and adults.
He said if it does pass, he would love to be part of the guideline process because there’s currently no limit to how much marijuana can be grown.
After the panel, Allender said if the measure passes, his message to people will be a reminder that they either voted for it or didn’t vote against, so now we have to deal with it.
“I will be in the state Legislature this session, begging for local communities, cities and counties to get the authority to govern their own affairs on this issue because it’s not a given in South Dakota,” he said. “We have to ask the state’s permission to govern our own affairs, so yes, you’ll see and hear a lot from me in the Legislature if this passes.”
— Contact Siandhara Bonnet at email@example.com —