Recreational marijuana is still illegal in South Dakota, but in the state’s largest population center, possessing small amounts of cannabis won’t land you behind bars anymore.
And state cops patrolling South Dakota highways are also easing up enforcement to a degree.
South Dakota’s new medical marijuana law takes effect at midnight Thursday, making possession of three ounces or less of cannabis legal for people with a qualifying condition. But authorities in Minnehaha County on Wednesday told the Argus Leader that they will no longer arrest or prosecute any low-level marijuana laws due to the impact the medical marijuana law will have on law enforcement’s ability to efficiently and effectively enforce recreational cannabis laws.
“Even if you don’t have a medical marijuana card, the decision was made that on low level, low quantity offenses, it’s a waste of resources to try and enforce the very, very complicated version of medical marijuana that was passed by the voter,” Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead said.
Under the state statute that takes effect Thursday, medical marijuana card holders or anyone with a recommendation to use cannabis from a medical professional can possess up to three ounces of cannabis at once. It also allows someone arrested for marijuana possession to have charges dismissed if they can obtain a doctor’s recommendation after the fact.
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Daniel Haggar said those provisions are expected to lead to lots of dismissals in jurisdictions where low level cannabis prohibitions continue to be enforced.
That coupled with the wishes of South Dakota voters conveyed at the ballot box last November — a recreational marijuana law was also approved but is invalid while a court challenge is resolved — it’s in the best interest of Minnehaha County taxpayers not to pursue convictions for low-level marijuana crimes, he said.
“That being said, juveniles possessing marijuana, individuals who are driving under the influence of marijuana, and individuals unlawfully distributing marijuana will continue to be prosecuted,” he said.
The Sioux Falls Police Department and the Lincoln County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed Wednesday evening their organizations are also taking that approach to marijuana enforcement.
On a state level, the Highway Patrol won’t be making as many arrests when encountering cannabis in the field either. However, that agency isn’t going quite as far as ceasing simple possession arrests entirely.
According to a news release issued by Gov. Kristi Noem’s office Wednesday, state troopers will not arrest people found to be in possession of three ounces or less if a suspect can produce evidence that they have a recommendation from a medical professional to use cannabis.
Non-resident marijuana ID cards will also be honored, and tribal members who have a tribal-issued medical marijuana ID card will also be protected from arrest if they possess three ounces or less of cannabis.
The Argus Leader is reaching out to other county law enforcers and prosecutors across the state about how they intend to adjust enforcement practices as a result of medical marijuana laws taking effect this week.
SD medical marijuana: What to know after it’s legalized on July 1
Medical marijuana will be legalized in South Dakota on July 1 after voters passed IM 26 in 2020. From ID cards to dispensaries, here’s what to know.