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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Like a broken record, but really, this is important

The moderator of Decorum Forum is fairly focused these days. He doesn't have much to say that hasn't been said already generally, but only by repetition (his only weapon) will the So. Dak. legislature have a chance of understanding that it is just wrong to put people in jail for using cannabis.

Following is a revised draft of the Nov. 12 Letter to Legislators.

One hundred five men and women will have the opportunity to read this letter. This letter has been signed by 175 South Dakotans. The 105 recipients represent, collectively, about 824,000 South Dakotans. The 175 signers each typify an unknown, but significant, in our opinion, number of their friends and neighbors, as well as folks none of us has ever met.

The 175 signers of this letter joined on the basis of the slogans; "Stop Jailing Cannabis Users," and "Let Doctors and Patients Decide." SoDakNORML and the 175 signers ask that the 2013 Legislature move in those directions.

We believe that SDCL 22-42-6 should be repealed. Nothing about cannabis use qualifies it for inclusion in the criminal code. The 82,402 prosecutions for cannabis possession in South Dakota since 1998 are pure carnage in our view. Nothing good came of them.

We refuse to argue for anything less than repeal of 22-42-6. However, it's obvious that the legislature can move in that direction by lessening the severity of the penalties for possession of cannabis. Our view is that if a lawmaking body can justify lessening the penalties, the same arguments work to abolish the law itself. SoDakNORML considers the repeal of 22-42-6 to be its primary goal.

For most of the 9500 arrests for some offense involving cannabis in South Dakota in 2012, the arrestees either got the charges dropped (about 70%), got it dismissed or beat the charge (about 10%), or were convicted or pled guilty and paid a fine. Some did a few days in jail. A few will do years and years. Money and time are what an arrest means to them. No big deal, just more carnage.

But there is a group of MS patients, spinal injury sufferers, chronic pain sufferers, cancer treatment sufferers, migraine sufferers, digestive tract disorder sufferers, and a dozen or so more general classifications of medical disorder patients who already make themselves and their suppliers criminals when they use cannabis to treat their conditions. There are many such patients who would use cannabis but are afraid to now because they fear the law more than they fear the misery of their conditions.

The 2013 legislature can contribute a great deal to alleviating the miserable symptoms many of these people have to endure by wiping out the miserable symptom of fear of prosecution for trying to relieve their discomfort. Simply allow those accused of possession of cannabis the ability to present evidence that he or she gains a medical benefit by doing so. Let prosecutors, judges and juries decide if the evidence is compelling. That's part of why we have them.

The evidence is already too compelling to allow this shredding of the concept of justice to continue. To call it heartless does not adequately convey the cruelty inherent in current South Dakota law. There is no rational reason to prevent people accused of "possession of 'marijuana'" from presenting a "medical necessity" defense. There are rational, medically defensible reasons to allow such a defense.

That much, at least, must be done in the 2013 legislative session in the name of justice.

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