Medical marijuana, lower penalties proposed (Updated)

Two South Dakota bills would relax South Dakota’s marijuana laws.

One, Senate Bill 221, would lower the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

It would make possessing two ounces or less of marijuana a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

That offense is currently a Class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The bill doesn’t change any penalties for possessing more than two ounces of the drug.

The list of sponsors for SB 221 is an interesting one. Its prime sponsor is Sen. Jim Bradford, a Democrat from Pine Ridge. It’s also backed by Sen. Craig Tieszen, a Rapid City Republican and former police chief, and by Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, one of the most conservative lawmakers in the House.

Another, House Bill 1227, would let people charged with possession of two ounces of less of marijuana defend themselves by claiming medical necessity.

It’s a back-door approach to legalizing medical marijuana, which South Dakota voters have in the past rejected.

"Medical necessity" is defined as "any medical condition that a competent medical authority has recommended that the defendant use marijuana for palliative care."

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, is the prime sponsor of this bill. The sponsors include many of the same supporting SB 221, including Tieszen and Bradford.