Editorial Summary: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. November 14, 2022.

Editorial: IM27 loses this time, but problems remain

Maybe it just seemed a little trolling last week when the day after South Dakota’s recreational marijuana measure Initiated Measure 27 (IM27) was defeated in the election, a spokesman for Protecting South Dakota Kids who opposed the measure said, triumphantly in a press release: “The will of the people has spoken.”

Of course, IM27 didn’t emerge until after voters approved recreational marijuana in 2020, but it was then challenged in court at the governor’s encouragement and abolished by the state Supreme Court a year ago next week. Back then, when the will of the people spoke, some people refused to heed it.

While the measure was defeated this year, it will likely come back. Last week, two more states (Maryland and Missouri) voted to legalize recreational cannabis, while North and South Dakota and Arkansas voted to keep it illegal. To date, 21 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis, while 37 states have legalized medical marijuana. That suggests the problem will resurface as perceptions of recreational marijuana continue to change.

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In South Dakota, opponents of IM27 cited the threat that marijuana expansion posed to the state. Protecting South Dakota Kids said their effort is to “prevent recreational marijuana from destroying our families, communities and quality of life.”

The ramifications of marijuana legalization is (and will continue to be) something that lawmakers and community leaders need to grapple with. It’s a valid concern.

On the other hand, such statements by anti-IM27 neglect the blunt fact that what we as a state and nation are doing now regarding marijuana is clearly not working.

One thing IM27 advocates noted during the campaign was that legalizing recreational cannabis would allow the state to regulate the product and collect tax revenue from it. And it would also allow resources to be shifted from prosecuting and imprisoning those in possession to other efforts.

Again, what we did has a bad reputation. The National Institutes of Health reported that cannabis use among college students and young adults in general was at an all-time high in 2020. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use, more than 48 million Americans reported using cannabis at least once in the past year, with 22.2 million reporting using it every month.

“Marijuana is surprisingly available to teenagers, even in middle school,” says a report on the study. “In 2019, nearly a third of eighth graders said it was ‘fairly easy’ or ‘very easy’ to get marijuana. Almost 60% of 10th graders and more than three-quarters of 12th graders said the same thing.”

As the report notes, it is important to acknowledge that efforts to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in recent years have sent “mixed signals” regarding the safety and/or dangers of cannabis.

However, perception is one thing; Increasing access to cannabis, even at the middle school level, is something else and has been an issue for many years.

Also, the legal war on marijuana has led to a great deal of money and resources being poured into a criminalization/punishment effort that is frankly failing. This was evident even before the wave of marijuana legalization began to sweep the country.

A new approach is needed to replace the debris of current policies.

Whether legalizing recreational marijuana is the way to go — or how much regulation is required as part of legalization — is an open question.

We know that prohibition and prosecution didn’t work.

Among other things, the defeat of IM27 perpetuates a failed status quo. This is simply unacceptable in the long run. At some point new approaches have to be found.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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