States with legal recreational weed all report doing fabulous things with the revenue they generate from this new and lucrative industry—fund schools, hospitals, rehab centers, shelter the homeless. The list is long.
Now, South Dakota’s voters are contemplating the same savvy move: boost funding for schools and teachers and reduce the sales tax burden by supporting a ballot measure to legalize recreational weed.
Under the proposal, South Dakotans (over 21) could legally possess and use one ounce of cannabis or grow five plants; non-residents would be limited to a quarter ounce. It’s a start.
As part of the measure, if enough petitions are signed in time for the 2018 ballot, sales and excise taxes could flow to the Department of Education for teacher’s salaries and school supplies; the Department of Health for drug prevention and abuse education; and to law enforcement agencies to help police illegal drug use and sale.
Proponents of the bill say the revenue stream alone should be enough to convince skeptical voters.
Opponents, according to the Argus Leader, say South Dakotans don’t want to legalized weed because its profitability remains unclear. Go figure.
Melissa Mentele, director of the state’s cannabis advocacy group New Approach South Dakota, points to Colorado, where sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana brought in $54.2 million last year for schools.
“We’re going to take something that’s costing our state to prosecute cannabis cases, we’re going to tax cannabis instead and use that money to educate our children,” she said.
South Dakota, population under one million, ranks the lowest in the nation for teachers’ pay and, not surprisingly, is suffering a desperate shortage.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual pay is $39,580 for South Dakota teachers.
Mississippi, which in the past has vied for the unenviable ranking of last place, now pays its educators an average of $41,994 annually, which ranks it 49th.
Mentele said her aim in bringing the proposal was to eliminate the marijuana black market that exists in the state. She is also carrying a ballot measure that would legalize small amounts of medical cannabis.
In addition to being the stingiest state in the union when it comes to paying teachers, South Dakota’s weed possession laws may be among the nation’s harshest.
Possession of just a small amount of weed carries a potential penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Hash or concentrates possession is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
Even more alarmingly, South Dakota enforces a bizarre law called “internal possession,” which means that individuals who test positive—even if they consumed weed in a state where it was legal—are subject to the same penalty.
A study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that South Dakota was among the top 10 states for racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates.
Despite people of all races using marijuana at very similar rates, the ACLU points out, blacks in South Dakota are nearly 4.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.