Mayor and county sheriff speak out against Recreational Marijuana

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SIOUX FALLS - As Sioux Falls officials highlighted their public safety concerns today, some also broached the topic of recreational marijuana.

South Dakota voters will head to the polls in November to decide on the issue with Initiated Measure 27, but if it was up to Mayor Paul TenHaken or Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, cannabis would not be legal beyond medical use.

“If we think that legalizing marijuana in the fall is going to lead to a safer community then we have another thing coming,” TenHaken said.

There are three “myths” people will hear coming from the IM 27 camp, TenHaken said.

One is that South Dakota prisons are full of marijuana convictions, which is not accurate, TenHaken said.

“The second is that crime will decreased because we will have legalized a drug that’s caused drug rips and so forth,” TenHaken said. “The absolute opposite happens, and I share that because the data supports that.”

TenHaken referenced a recent Los Angeles times report about violent crime in California, where recreational cannabis has legal for eight yeasr.

“It’s very concerning,” TenHaken said. “Why would you, as someone with a legal cannabis license, how can you compete against someone who says, ‘I’m going to bypass the laws, I’m going to bypass the permits, I’m going to bypass all the other things and just grow illegally, I don’t have to pay the taxes.’ That’s why the black market is stronger in places where cannabis is legal.”

The third untrue “myth,” TenHaken said, is that the revenues are a “tremendous boon” to a community.

“Any revenue that is realized is used to deal with the unintended consequences, treatment issues, crime issues that (are results) of legalization.”

The mayor said he realized he’ll get “skewered” by the pro-cannabis industry, but his job as a mayor is to “build a community for kids and families.”

“If you can show me articles, data, stats on how cannabis helps kids and families in a community, I’ll be the first one on November 8th to check the box and vote for it,” TenHaken said. “I have to see any state that has legalized cannabis to say this has been good for our youth, this has been good for our families.”

Milstead grouped marijuana with other harmful drugs in the area -- like methamphetamine and fentanyl.

In his power point presentation about causes of raised violent crime rates in Sioux Falls, Milstead honed in on use and sale of illegal drugs. He estimated that 90 percent of fentanyl and meth in South Dakota comes from Mexican drug cartels.

But he did not address why marijuana was considered to be a major component in his presentation until pressed about it in the question-and-answer portion of the press conference.

Marijuana is among the drugs his sheriff’s office sees the most on service calls, according to Milstead, adding that it’s not uncommon for marijuana to be at the root of violent crime and gang activity.

“Individuals go to purchase marijuana, and they get drug-ripped,” Milstead said. “And, so, that’s why some of the people buying marijuana are carrying guns, and that’s why some people are selling marijuana are carrying guns.

And, so, there’s a lot of black market marijuana dealings that go on in our community, and some of them result in violence. Some of them result with individuals joining gangs, and, so, I certainly would keep marijuana in that top three of what drugs we’re encountering and dealing with on a regular basis, sometimes with people that are armed and posing a danger to our community.”

A reporter then mentioned that legal marijuana would allow licensed dispensaries to sell the product, and asked Milstead if he thought that would make the community safer.

Milstead cited sheriffs he knows in Colorado who have operated in a state with legal recreational cannabis.

“The black market in Colorado is alive and well,” Milstead said.

Recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2013. According to former Colorado district attorneys George Brauchler (Republican) and Mitch Morrissey (Democrat), violent crime rose 35 percent in that state from 2011-2020.

According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, in terms of organized crime, the number of court filings charged with the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act that were linked to some marijuana charge increased from 31 in 2012 to 119 in 2017, but then dropped back down to 34 in 2019.

“The mayor of Colorado Springs will tell you what promises were made about recreational marijuana and what the reality is, what Colorado is experiencing as a result,” Milstead said.

Dakota News Now looked into these remarks from Mayor John Suthers.

In July 2022, Suthers told a Colorado TV station that he’s “vehemently opposed” to recreational marijuana sales in Colorado Springs. Suthers’ office did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

“When we legalized recreational marijuana in the state, I remember the promises,” Suthers told the station. “Number one: there’ll be all kinds of money for schools, roads, all that kind of stuff. But all the money we’ve taken in barely pays for the regulation of marijuana and it doesn’t pay for the social problems.”

In response to this, Anthony Carlson, a campaign manager for Your Choice Colorado Springs, told The Center Square — an American conservative news website that features reporting on state and local government — that Suthers “is sticking his head in the sand and talking as if adult-use recreational cannabis isn’t already 100% legal to possess and consume in Colorado Springs.

Right now, people are traveling to nearby communities, purchasing their cannabis, and bringing it right back home to use.”

“Recreational cannabis is already here, we just don’t reap the benefits of the tax revenue that comes with it,” he added.

There are some counties in Colorado that have made recreational marijuana illegal, Milstead said.

“Quite frankly, I just don’t think it is what South Dakota wants. That’s just my opinion.”

In November 2020, over 225,000 South Dakotans voted to legalize recreational marijuana with the passage of Amendment A at a 54-percent clip. That was about 35,000 more than those who voted against it.

With the passage of South Dakota Initiated Measure 26 on the same ballot, South Dakota would have become the first state in U.S. history to legalize recreational and medical cannabis simultaneously.

Two months later, Gov. Kristi Noem — who campaigned against Amendment A in the election — issued an executive order which revealed she had directed South Dakota Highway Patrol superintendent Rick Miller to file a lawsuit to have the amendment invalidated.

A month after that, Circuit Court Judge Christina Klingler — a Noem appointee — struck down the amendment as unconstitutional, ruling that it violated the single-subject provision.

The case was appealed to the state supreme court, which ruled on November 24, 2021, in favor of the plaintiffs in a 4–1 decision, upholding the lower court’s ruling.

Region: South Dakota