Amicus lector
Are South Dakota’s pot laws ‘out of whack’ with the rest of the country’s?

On Monday, our friend David Montgomery had a story about a couple of marijuana bills that were set to appear this legislative session.

One would let a person use a medical defense against pot charges. In other words, “I’ve got a doctor’s note for this pot, so I’m not breaking the law.”

The creation of such a defense is tantamount to legalizing medical marijuana. That’s fine by those who support medical marijuana, but it is a sort of back door into the legalization that voters rejected in 2010.

The other bill would change pot possession in small quantities from a class 1 to a class 2 misdemeanor. That would drop the maximum penalty (which most people don’t get) from a year in jail and a $1,000 fine to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Interestingly, both bills are sponsored by cops. The first comes from Dan Kaiser, a working Aberdeen Police Officer and freshman representative.

The other comes from a seasoned veteran, former Rapid City Police Chief and Senate Judiciary Chair Craig Tieszen.

Both are Republicans.

Monty quoted Tieszen in Monday’s story saying that South Dakota’s penalties are out of step with much of the country. Tieszen also said that a lot of working cops will acknowledge as much, although not publicly.

“Our marijuana statutes are way out of whack,” said Tieszen.

Which got me wondering: Are we out of whack? With which states? By how much?

Luckily, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has a website with the answer.

We’re not the only state with a year penalty or more, but Tieszen’s basically right – most states don’t put the maximum penalty at a year in jail or more.

The penalty is less in most states.

It’s also true, however, that 14 states do have a year or more in jail as a top penalty, and two others have two years as a max. The one-year penalty is the most popular of the frequently-used options.

Here’s a breakdown, based on the NORML site’s pot law map. Keep in mind here that the amount of pot that qualifies as small differs from state to state. Some measure by gram, some by the ounce.

Alaska deserves special mention as a state where up to four ounces is legal to have in one’s home, but an ounce or more is illegal in public.

OK, here goes.

Legal for personal use: Washington state, Colorado

Fine only: Maine, New York, Mississippi, Ohio, Nevada, California, Nebraska, Minnesota, Oregon, North Carolina, Massachusetts

15 days: New Mexico

30 days: North Dakota, Illinois, Hawaii, Virginia, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Illinois

45 days: Kentucky

Three months: Maryland, Alaska

Six months: Washington, D.C., Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana

One year: Florida, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana, Idaho, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, Wyoming, South Dakota

Two years: Arkansas, Arizona

The hearing for the medical marijuana bill begins at 7:45 a.m. in the House Judiciary Committee. Listen here.

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