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Mayors, law enforcement concerned about marijuana legalization

A group of mayors and law enforcement across the state are raising concerns about a ballot question to legalize marijuana possession.

They say it will compromise public safety and public health.

Rapid City mayor Steve Allender said the ballot measure comes at the worst possible time.

“This is a measure that does not consider the public safety in our communities at a time in our history when public safety is paramount and is most on people’s minds about rise in crime," Allender said.

IM27 would legalize the use of marijuana as well as possession of up to an ounce.

Pat West is the Sheriff-elect for Meade County. He’s also the law enforcement liaison for Protecting South Dakota Kids, the group formed to oppose marijuana legalization. West said possession of small amounts of marijuana won’t land people in jail.

“The main thing I’m concerned about—it’s just going to open up a black-market avenue," West said. "The market is going to be flooded. the rule of economics is if you want to sell it the price is going to go down, but they’re still going to move that marijuana illegally.”

IM27 does not legalize the sale of marijuana. Taxing and regulation would get determined by the state legislature. The ballot measure changes state law, which means lawmakers can amend it.

Sioux Falls and Minnehaha officials and law enforcement held a similar press conference to express their concerns.

Matthew Schweich is the president of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. He said keeping cannabis illegal is making crime worse.

“And we want to shift cannabis into a regulated system. Take it out of the hands of dealers who don’t check I.D., who don’t ensure product safety, who often sell other substances and we want to put cannabis behind the counters of licensed, regulated, tax paying businesses,” Schwiech said. “That is good for public safety.”

South Dakota voters have through November 8 to vote on the proposal.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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