The State of Cannabis: South Dakota Trails the Nation with Harsh Cannabis Laws

South Dakota: Great for corn palaces, but terrible for cannabis
South Dakota: Great for corn palaces, but terrible for cannabis

The upcoming year is going to be big for cannabis. Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington), along with Washington D.C., have legalized recreational cannabis and that number will likely double, maybe even triple in 2016. Most importantly, there are now strong indications that California will be joining this select group.

Medical cannabis is now legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and there are serious efforts being made to legalize medical cannabis in some shape or form in just about every state in which it is not yet legal.

All of this is a preface to introducing our newest blog post series — The State of Cannabis — to run every Sunday for the next year or so. In this State of Cannabis series, we will rank the fifty states from worst to best in terms of their treatment of cannabis and those who consume it. Each post will analyze one state until the final post, which will crown the best state for cannabis. Our rankings will be based mostly on the following:

  • The legal status of recreational cannabis
  • The legal status of medical cannabis
  • The criminal penalties on the books for cannabis, and how those penalties are actually enforced in real life
  • Pending and recent cannabis legislation
  • Public opinion on cannabis

As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments.

So without further adieu, we give you the worst state: South Dakota.

South Dakota 

South Dakota’s Criminal Laws.  Cannabis is totally illegal in South Dakota. It is not available for either recreational or medical use and it has not been decriminalized. And South Dakota has some of the strictest penalties for cannabis possession in the country.

Under S.D. Codified Laws § 22-42-6, penalties for possessing cannabis vary depending on the amount. Less than two ounces is a misdemeanor. Any larger amount can result in felony charges. Possessing over 10 pounds of cannabis can result in a 15-year prison sentence with a $30,000 fine.

A person charged with intent to sell faces stricter penalties under S.D. Codified Laws § 22-42-7 . If a person is caught trying to sell less than an ounce of cannabis, he or she faces a mandatory 15-day jail sentence. Those caught selling over a pound of cannabis may serve 25 years in the state penitentiary. Twenty-five years! 

It’s also a misdemeanor to possess drug paraphernalia in South Dakota, and doing so can lead to up to 30 days in prison and a $500 fine. S.D. Codified Laws § 22-42A-3

Prior Legislation and Public Opinion. South Dakota has the initiative process, which means voters can pass laws with a direct vote. This is important as all five jurisdictions (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia) legalized recreational marijuana via a “people’s vote” process. An initiative in South Dakota to legalize medical marijuana is currently awaiting review by the South Dakota Secretary of State. There is, however, little reason for optimism regarding this initiative as South Dakota voters have twice declined to legalize medical marijuana (a 2006 initiative lost 52%-47% and a 2010 initiative lost 63%-36%), and this initiative currently lacks both sufficient funding and broad-based voter support. The Rapid City Journal reports that:

If a vote to legalize marijuana for medical use in South Dakota comes down to money, as many modern elections do, the effort to pass a statewide referendum to legalize the drug for medicinal use in 2016 may face an uphill battle.

A national pro-marijuana group that pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a past medical-marijuana ballot measure campaign in South Dakota does not plan to financially support a potential 2016 initiative in South Dakota, according to a spokesman for the group.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) contributed $428,091 to the 2006 initiative but will not be funding the 2016 initiative, presumably because it does not see it as having much likelihood of success. South Dakota will not likely legalize medical cannabis in 2016.

Bottom Line: South Dakota has the worst cannabis laws in the nation and those laws are not likely to change anytime soon. South Dakota does not have strong local support for cannabis and national groups like MPP appear to have given up on this conservative state.