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Lalley: Weed wars likely won't end with marijuana vote

The South Dakota Legislature would have to decide how to regulate recreational marijuana if IM27 passes. But Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken raises the city's power of home rule as a potential tool to limit pot sales.

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Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead speaking against Initiated Measure 27, which would legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota, on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Patrick Lalley / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — I don’t smoke weed.

This is less a statement of legal guilt or innocence, than it is a benchmark for your judgment.

Anytime the issue of legalizing marijuana comes up, there’s an assumption that, just by association, you must be a pothead. (Pothead is probably an overly blunt term but it retains a sense of candor that still works. I mean no disrespect.)

At any rate, I’m not a pothead.

The fact is, I never have used marijuana, not on purpose anyway. I did grow up in the ’70s, however, and went to college in the ’80s.

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At USD.

I was in the marching band.

The drinking age was 18.

You get the picture.

Marijuana has been in the background my entire life. It’s also been illegal that entire time.

Whether or not Initiated Measure 27 — which would legalize the personal possession of marijuana — passes or not, it won’t be much of a shock.

It’s always been here and always will be.

Early on, in this latest attempt to legalize recreational marijuana use, there was a sense that it could pass. After all, voters approved it in 2020, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

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Why would that change in two years?

The time and attention of opponents primarily. There’s a large number of people who just weren’t paying attention last time around who are now.

That was clear on Wednesday, Oct. 26, when Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken gathered a bunch of like-minded public officials and friends to draw attention to the dangers of recreational marijuana.

It was a standard media event with a big group of supporters that included Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead and State's Attorney Daniel Haggar.

The interesting thing wasn’t so much the content of the message. The mayor, sheriff and state’s attorney were clear about that. Recreational marijuana is bad, won’t eliminate the black market and in fact will contribute to more crime, not less.

“There’s nothing good about legalizing recreational marijuana, in my mind, and that’s why I’m voting against it,” Milstead said.

There was a counter event immediately afterward with IM27 proponents who refuted all these claims.

That was the normal political conversation.

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Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken

But Mayor TenHaken made an interesting point. He said that if IM27 does pass, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to buy weed in Sioux Falls, other than what’s currently allowed for medical marijuana use.

The mayor brought up Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the city doesn’t allow dispensaries even though it’s legal in that state. Ultimately, it would be up to the South Dakota Legislature to decide how marijuana is regulated, he said.

So I asked him what he would tell lawmakers should that come to pass.

“If I could tell them what to do, I would say we have what’s called home rule in Sioux Falls. I think that is a muscle that we would certainly flex on this. But I can say other vices that we limit. We limit the number of liquor licenses. We’ve limited medical (marijuana) dispensaries. It’s not going to be a cannabis free-fall in Sioux Falls if this would happen and we have to put this here. We need to be pragmatic about if it would pass.”

Which, if IM27 fails, means nothing.

But, if it does pass, expect the weed wars to move to Carnegie Town Hall.

Don’t blame me. I’m with the band.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for Sioux Falls Live. Reach him at plalley@siouxfallslive.com.
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