The state pays around US$90 a day to keep someone in jail.

Enforcement of South Dakota cannabis laws disproportionately affects Black Americans and Native Americans in the state, while also costing taxpayers millions of dollars, new research shows.

The study, commissioned by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, reveals that in one in 10 arrests in the state were for cannabis-related offences in 2018, with weed arrests increasing over the past decade. The organization was also behind initiatives to legalize medical and recreational cannabis, both of which will receive votes in the November Election.

Conducted by Jon Gettman, a Shenandoah University at Virginia professor of criminology and criminal justice, the study analyzed statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program.

According to the report, 31,883 people were arrested for cannabis in South Dakota between 2009 and 2018. Possession of two ounces or less was the reason for 95 per cent of the arrests. Over that 10-year span, cannabis arrests climbed 166 per cent, from 1,586 to 4,218.

Gettman concluded that cannabis law enforcement in South Dakota disproportionately targeted Blacks and Native Americans, as commensurate with population figures.

“Native Americans accounted for 8.9 per cent of the population of South Dakota in 2016, for example, but based on UCR data, they comprised 29.3 per cent of all marijuana possession arrests that year,” notes the report. “Blacks make up 2.1 per cent of the population, but accounted for 10 per cent of possession arrests in 2016. These disparities are not explained by differences in the use of marijuana. The prevalence of annual marijuana use among these [Whites, Blacks and Native Americans] is similar.”

Those aged 25 or younger accounted for more than 60 per cent of these cannabis arrests. / Getty Images

/ Photo: Getty Images

The report also calculated how cannabis law enforcement is costly business for South Dakota. While not specifying the median or average stay of those arrested for cannabis, the report did find the state pays around US$90 a day to keep someone in jail.

If the 4,218 people arrested in 2018 were each jailed 15 days, it would cost about US$5.7 million on cannabis-related incarceration. Should those individuals spend 90 days jailed, that number jumps to US$34.3 million.

Those aged 25 or younger accounted for more than 60 per cent of these cannabis arrests. During a virtual press conference, former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson said these laws have resulted in “almost an entire generation” being criminalized.

“We are simply ruining too many lives in South Dakota (because of) possession of a small amount of marijuana,” Johnson said, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

“When we see that one in 10 arrests in South Dakota are for marijuana, we know that it is taking a huge economic toll on our state — not only in terms of taking productive citizens out of the workforce,” he pointed out, “but also in terms of the day-to-day law enforcement costs associated with enforcing this prohibition.”

A recent poll found that a majority of voters favour both medicinal and recreational marijuana legalization in the upcoming election.


The, a U.S. lifestyle site that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.

Want to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world of cannabis? Subscribe to the Cannabis Post newsletter for weekly insights into the industry, what insiders will be talking about and content from across the Postmedia Network


Leave a Reply