Cannabis law enforcement in South Dakota disproportionately targeted Blacks and Native Americans, and cannabis arrests have risen over the past decade.
Enforcement of South Dakota cannabis laws disproportionately affects Black Americans and Native Americans in the state, while also costing taxpayers millions of dollars, new research shows.
The study, commissioned by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, reveals that in one in 10 arrests in the state were for cannabis-related offenses in 2018, with marijuana arrests increasing over the past decade. The organization was also behind initiatives to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis, both of which will receive votes in the November Election.
Conducted by Jon B. Gettman, a Shenandoah University at Virginia professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the study analyzed statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. According to the report, 31,883 people were arrested for cannabis in South Dakota between 2009 and 2018. Possession of two ounces or less was the reason behind 95% of the arrests. Over that 10-year span, cannabis arrests climbed 166%, from 1,586 in 2007 to 4,218 in 2018.
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Gettman concluded that cannabis law enforcement in South Dakota disproportionately targeted Blacks and Native Americans, as commensurate with population figures.
“Native Americans accounted for 8.9% of the population of South Dakota in 2016, for example, but based on UCR data, they comprised 29.3% of all marijuana possession arrests that year,” reads the report. “Blacks make up 2.1% of the population but accounted for 10% of possession arrests in 2016. These disparities are not explained by differences in the use of marijuana. The prevalence of annual marijuana use among these [Whites, Blacks, and Native Americans] is similar.”
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The report also calculated how cannabis law enforcement is costly business for South Dakota. While not specifying the median or average stay of those arrested for cannabis, the report did find the state pays around $90 a day to keep someone in jail. If the 4,218 people arrested in 2018 were each jailed 15 days, that would cost around $5.7 million on cannabis-related incarceration. Should those individuals spend 90 days jailed, that number jumps to $34.3 million.
Those 25 years or younger accounted for over 60% of these cannabis arrests. During a virtual press conference, former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson said these laws have resulted in “almost an entire generation” to be criminalized.
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“We are simply ruining too many lives in South Dakota (because of) possession of a small amount of marijuana,” Johnson said, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
“When we see that one in 10 arrests in South Dakota are for marijuana, we know that it is taking a huge economic toll on our state—not only in terms of taking productive citizens out of the workforce,” he added, “but also in terms of the day-to-day law enforcement costs associated with enforcing this prohibition.”
A recent poll found that a majority of voter favor both medicinal and recreational marijuana legalization in the upcoming election.