South Dakota senate committee hears marijuana criminal reform bill

The bill would expunge the marijuana related crimes of thousands of South Dakotans.
Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 9:27 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota Senate Judiciary committee got its first look at SB 141, which would “provide for the automatic removal of certain marijuana convictions from a background check record.”

The bill was sponsored by committee member State Senator Michael Rohl (R-Aberdeen), a major proponent of criminal justice reform bills.

Rohl said that regardless of the results of the Amendment A lawsuit, the bill had wide support across the state.

“This is significantly less than what the voters approved,” Rohl said.

Opponents of the bill said that this was not something the voters voted upon. However, Rohl said that it had more support than legal recreational marijuana did in last November’s election.

The bill would make it so that if a marijuana charge was the highest offense by a criminal, it would be expunged from a defendant’s public record once they satisfied their debt to society. However, that information would still be available to law enforcement officers.

Proponents cited ways in which marijuana charges present more obstacles for those who have them, even if they are decades old. Proponents argued that in South Dakota, citizens with a marijuana charge are unable to get college financial aid or adopt children.

However, opponents argued that it was important for potential employers, landlords, and others to have unfettered access to those records.

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg testified against the bill, saying that it was “premature,” on the grounds of the Amendment A lawsuit results yesterday. Ravnsborg office testified in favor of the constitutionality of Amendment A last month in court.

Members of the all Republican committee appeared sympathetic to the bill, but still had questions regarding its implementation. They opted to wait till later this week to vote on it.

The committee will instead vote on the bill in the same committee Thursday morning.

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