Since September 10, when SoDakNORML started its Letters to Legislators campaign, we have heard from six recipients, from an unchallenged incumbent to mere aspirants to a statehouse desk. Once a week for nine weeks we have drafted and mailed a letter addressed to everyone with a chance to be a South Dakota representative or senator this year.
The consistent theme of the letters is that cannabis Prohibition is obviously 1) a failure, 2) expensive, 3) baseless, and 4) wrong.
Four respondents, all hopeful non-incumbents, said they agreed with us. One has a chance of being elected. All asked to remain anonymous until after the election.
One respondent, Rep. Steve Hickey, facebooked us that he would pay attention to the letters. We appreciated the gesture from an incumbent whose opinion of current cannabis policy is unknown to us.
The sixth is former Rapid City Police Chief Craig Tieszen. Senator Tieszen accepts the validity of the evidence for cannabis' therapeutic qualities. He will support proposed legislation that allows patients access to cannabis, if he believes the legislation will not result in consequences that threaten public order. He believes that blanket legalization of cannabis, even if only for adults, constitutes a threat at some level to public order.
His predecessor as Rapid City chief of police, Tom Hennies, was a SD representative for about four terms. Hennies had similar views, but actually introduced legislation to allow "a medical necessity" as a defense to a pot possession charge in court.
The early Letters to Legislators suggested the legislature should do away with the law known by too many people as 22-42-6 (Possession of "Marijuana"). While it's what they should do, it seems unlikely to SoDakNORML that they're gonna do it. Sen. Tieszen said, "It's probably another one of those deals where South Dakota is going to come in 49th or 50th."
As we have drafted the Letters and have thought constantly about what we will say next week, the feeling has come upon us that maybe a reasonable goal for the 2013 legislative session is for the legislature to grant a right a person accused of a crime should already have; the right to argue that he committed the "crime" for which he is being charged in order to prevent a greater harm.
Here's a fact of South Dakota law: a person accused of almost any crime may propose the argument in his defense that he committed the crime in order to prevent a greater harm. It is accepted common law that a person may use a boat without permission of the owner to save a drowning person, even oneself.
Except if one is using cannabis to alleviate one's own misery caused by an adverse medical condition. That is so plainly wrong that even the most cynical of legislators can only rely on one argument: Judges and juries are too dumb to be allowed to listen to evidence that cannabis helps relieve misery in many cases of physical adversity.
We think we can win that argument.