Lawmakers consider changing penalty for ingestion charges

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 10:43 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Current South Dakota statute says that if someone is caught with a controlled substance in their blood or urine sample, they could be charged with a felony. If Senate Bill 143 becomes law, that penalty changes to a misdemeanor on the first or second offense.

Right now, South Dakota is the only state in the country where the ingestion of a controlled substance is a felony crime. Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead says the current law on the books is the best way to not only get drugs off the streets but to get those who use them the help they need.

“You can’t even get into drug court if you are not facing penitentiary time and a felony, so it would eliminate any of those people from being available for drug court, because they wouldn’t meet the criteria and we’re recognizing that things like drug court are a very effective way to deal with individuals, even though they are charged with a felony, they have an opportunity to remove that and get back into society,” said Milstead,

Bill backers, like the ACLU of South Dakota, saying burdening those convicted of ingestion with a felony record hurts those who do get help by making it tough to get a job and they say the money spent on prosecution would be better used on treatment.

“Drug use is definitely a serious issue we are not trying to say it’s not, but we can’t incarcerate our way out of addiction, it just doesn’t work. The enormous amount of money that South Dakota is spending on incarcerating people for drug-related offenses is disproportionate and really causes more harm than good to individuals struggling with addiction,” said Janna Farley, Communications Director of the ACLU of South Dakota.

But Sheriff Milstead says the current law, he believes, has helped keep crime in check to a certain extent.

“Living in a healthy community, with low crime rates it does have a cost, and South Dakota sometimes is accused of over incarcerating individuals, then again we are one of the safest places in America to live and raise a family,” said Milstead.

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