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Our opinion: Initiated Measure 26 would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes and Constitutional Amendment A would legalize it for recreational use. Voters should say ‘yes’ to both next Tuesday, Nov. 3.

When registered voters living in South Dakota head to the polls next week Tuesday, Nov. 3, they will have an opportunity to do something that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago: legalize marijuana.

And they should.

Two separate ballot measures, Initiated Measure 26 and Constitutional Amendment A, would legalize marijuana for medical purposes and recreational use, respectively. This comes amidst a nationwide trend of the past decade that has seen marijuana legalized for medical purposes, decriminalized and, in the case of 11 states and the District of Columbia, fully legalized for recreational use. That’s a stark referendum on the failed War on Drugs policy of the 1980s and 90s that wrongly placed pot in the same category as far more addictive, dangerous and deadly illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.

Marijuana is not the same. In fact, a strong case could be made that it is much safer and far less destructive than alcohol, which can and does cause extensive health problems and injuries. According to addictioncenter.com, excessive alcohol consumption is the third-leading cause of death annually in the United States. Marijuana isn’t even on the list.

But back to the issues at hand: IM 26 and Amendment A.

The case for medical marijuana (IM26)

The legalization of medical marijuana should be a no-brainer for South Dakota voters. The benefits of its medicinal use include relief from nausea caused by chemotherapy, the treatment of severe childhood epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, a reduction in chronic and neurotic pain, and  relief from a battle against muscle spasms and anxiety.

Medical professionals are already prescribing far more dangerous and addictive drugs ranging from Acetaminophen to Benzodiazepines to a myriad of anti-depressants. Even common cold medications possess addictive qualities and include ingredients that can have long-term effects on the nervous system.

Well over half of the states in the union — 33, plus the District of Columbia — recognize these benefits and have legalized marijuana for medical use. South Dakota should as well; voters should vote “yes” on Initiated Measure 26 on Tuesday.

The case for recreational marijuana (Amendment A)

Much of the general population views marijuana as a dangerous drug largely because it has been lumped together with other illegal drugs that actually are dangerous — and deadly. But it’s worth looking at the issue with an open mind and considering the other side, because it just makes sense.

That new approach has led to the full legalization of marijuana in 11 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia. One of the benefits those states have seen in legalizing pot is economic. Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize marijuana, reported better-than-expected sales and a windfall of tax revenue.

This is from the Government and Policy section of investopedia.com:

In 2019, Colorado collected more than $302 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. Sales in the state totaled over $1.7 billion.

Sales in the U.S were $12.2 billion, in 2019, and (are) projected to increase to $31.1 billion by 2024, according to a report from Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics.

Local research supports this view as well; a report from the Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research recently found that the legal cannabis industry has contributed more than $80.8 million to the local economy in 2017, primarily through taxes and other fees.

Should marijuana become legal on a federal level, the benefits to the economy could be exceptional: a report from cannabis analytics company New Frontier suggests that federally legal pot could generate an additional $105.6 billion in aggregate federal tax revenue by 2025.

That is the carrot that dangled before many states. In December 2019, it was reported that since January 2018, California’s cannabis sales had generated 411.3 million in excise tax, $98.9 million in cultivation tax and $335.1 million in sales tax.

But this is about much more than tax revenue.

Regulating marijuana would lead to job growth.

It would control dangerous chemicals that can be found in “street weed.”

It would keep non-violent “criminals” out of a crowded prison system.

It would enable law enforcement to focus on far more serious violent crime.

And it would champion the idea of “personal freedoms” endorsed by so many on both sides of the political spectrum.

Elected officials and law enforcement agents who oppose its legalization frequently cite marijuana as a danger because it’s a “gateway drug” that can lead to the use of more dangerous substances.

Perhaps, but you can say the same thing about alcohol. And therein lies one of the biggest reasons why the legalization of marijuana makes sense.

Alcohol is prevalent, abused, dangerous and deadly yet is legal and widely available. How many families have been destroyed, how many lives have been disrupted, and how many automobile fatalities have been caused by the abuse of alcohol?

How it that OK and the use of a natural plant is not? The issue is responsible use.

People of all walks of life have been ingesting marijuana for generations and will continue to do so, regardless of the law. That alone doesn’t necessarily justify legalizing it. But when you weigh the other benefits that go along with it — primarily from an economic and safety standpoint — it makes sense.

When it comes down to it, marijuana is beneficial in medicine and not a public danger when it comes to recreational use — certainly compared to other substances that are both legal and potentially lethal. That’s why South Dakota voters should say “yes” to Constitutional Amendment A on Tuesday, Nov. 3, and legalize weed.

Jeremy Waltner, Editor & Publisher