Medical cannabis doesn't mean lax enforcement of marijuana laws
Expanded supply of marijuana won't change the policies and practice of Sioux Falls Police Department
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The letter of the law and human motivation don’t always coincide.
One need only look at marijuana policy and use in the United States for an example.
The hopes of recreational marijuana users in South Dakota were dashed by election results on Nov. 8, when Initiated Measure 27 went down by 6 points.
It’s surely not the last time we’ll be debating the issue. Marijuana laws are changing across the country with variations from state to state. Medical marijuana is now legal in South Dakota with many dispensaries in operation.
The gradations of legality allow increasing numbers of people to freely use marijuana. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz recently said he supports a push in the Legislature to legalize recreational use next year. That raises the prospect of legal weed within a few minutes drive to the 300,000 residents of the Sioux Falls metro.
At what point does the sheer volume of available pot simply negate the technicality of the law?
Peter Dikun and his wife opened The Flower Shop in Sioux Falls as a medical cannabis dispensary about three months ago with hopes that IM27 would pass as well.
“Eventually it will happen,” Dikun said of full legalization.
Dikun was among the organizers of the ballot issue and says they will make another run at approval in two years. Regardless of the state of the law, people will be using cannabis products in Sioux Falls.
“It is happening now,” he said. “If people are not getting it from Minnesota in the future, they will get it from Colorado, they will get it from Montana, they are getting it on the black market.”
Having it legal a few miles away just makes it easier, he said. “Nobody really wants to be buying their cannabis from a guy in a parking lot.”
Regardless of the trend, the law is the law.
If someone is caught transporting a bushel of pot across the border, that’s one thing. IM27 only applied to possession under an ounce. Does the increasing prevalence of medical marijuana and changing attitudes change the perspective of law enforcement in Sioux Falls?
Not really, said Sam Clemens, the public information officer for the Sioux Falls Police Department.
Police officers aren’t rooting around looking for dope smokers. Rather, people get charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana as a result of some other incident.
“Most of the people in the past who were arrested for marijuana, it’s not because they were flaunting it, or smoking it in public, the officers were encountering them for another reason,” Clemens said. “It may have been a fight, it may have been someone acting disorderly, or a traffic stop … It’s not like these small amounts of marijuana were specifically targeted. There were other reasons that officers encountered them and then found marijuana.”
That’s not going to change with the growth of medical marijuana or if Minnesota were to approve recreational use, he said.
“It may become prevalent, we may see more amounts of it, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily going to change anything for us,” he said. “If we find someone who has marijuana, we still have to do some checking to find out if it’s medical, if they have a card. It doesn’t necessarily matter where they are getting it from.”
Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken was a vocal opponent of IM27. During a news conference just before the vote he said that medical marijuana is the avenue for people who can be helped by its use.
While he doesn’t want to see it spread, and believes there are serious potential threats to public health and for children, cracking down on pot users isn’t going to solve those problems either.
Tougher laws or steeper penalties isn’t the answer, he said during an interview with Forum News Service just before the vote. He believes that many small steps, such as mentorship programs and The Link, a community triage center that serves people needing immediate care for substance abuse, are ways to make progress.
“We don’t need more cops,” he said. “We could put a thousand cops on the streets and it doesn’t change some of these issues, the societal underpinnings.”
The tapestry of marijuana laws is certainly shifting across the country.
Recreational marijuana already is legal in 19 states and Washington, D.C. Two more states — Missouri and Maryland — approved it during the recent election.
Dikun, the owner of The Flower Shop, believes that the federal government will eventually decriminalize pot, making the rules the same across the country. For now, he’s going to forge ahead in the medical marijuana business. He feels like he’s helping people.
“One thing that I was not prepared for is that there are a lot of cancer patients that come into the store,” he said. “You never judge people. We don’t know what’s going on in their body.”
Clemens advice for people is don’t cut corners or think you can’t get in trouble just because medical marijuana is legal. It’s not a blanket permission for everybody.
“If they don't want to get in trouble it should be medical marijuana. They should be buying it from a dispensary. Just follow the law. Then you don’t have to worry about any legal problems or getting arrested or any of the fallout that could happen with that. Whatever people feel about it, if they follow the law then they aren’t going to have any issues.”