A bill that would have lowered the maximum penalty for possession of two ounces of marijuana or less was killed Tuesday in a Senate committee. It died on a 5-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee after law enforcement representatives testified against it.
The bill, Senate Bill 221, would have moved marijuana possession from a Class 1 to a Class 2 misdemeanor. That would have lowered the maximum penalty from a year in jail to 30 days in jail.
Both proponents and opponents of the measure agreed that the vast majority of people charged with pot possession serve little or no jail time, with most receiving only fines. Those fines can be significant, though. In east-central Beadle County, for instance, pot possession offenders are typically hit with a fine of $435, with some jail time thrown in for repeat offenders.
Attorney General Marty Jackley (R), the State's Attorney's Association's Paul Bachand, and lobbyists for sheriffs and police chiefs all opposed the bill, saying it would "send the wrong message" about a substance they consider a "gateway drug."
Earlier in the session, legislators defeated a medical marijuana bill (again). The state also criminalizes having gotten high, even if having done so elsewhere. Its "internal possession" law is unique in the country. South Dakota remains one of the most pot-unfriendly places in the country, something that summer vacationers and fans of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would do well to keep in mind.