Recently in South Dakota, two law enforcement officers were forgiven by the South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission for cannabis use. According to the South Dakota Searchlight, the commission made decisions on more than a dozen pending certifications and recertifications, of “officers, canine units, and reciprocity for out-of-state or Indian Country officers seeking state certification.” Many “officer hopefuls” attended a commission meeting on July 12 to make their case.
The first was Officer Kody Beckers, who previously pleaded guilty to possession of THC wax when he was a freshman in college in 2015. “I’m not going to fabricate an excuse. It was a mistake. I was in college, my freshman year,” Beckers said. “Looking back at it now was a blessing in disguise for me. I turned my whole act around.”
He earned his undergraduate degree at Minnesota State University, and later earned a law enforcement certification at Alexandria Technical and Community College. “I wanted to find a way to obtain my sense of purpose in helping people,” Beckers continued.
South Dakota law prohibits the commission from certifying officer applicants who have pleaded guilty to a felony, however exceptions can be granted “for those given a suspended imposition of sentence in the state,” wrote the South Dakota Searchlight.
After discussing if the commission has the power to certify Beckers, they agreed to do so. “I think that this is an appropriate consideration for this board,” said commission member Tom Wollman. “We have pretty clear authority under our state law. It gives us that discretion.”
The second case pertained to a current sheriff’s deputy, Alicen Fladland, who will still be allowed to be certified as an officer even though she has a registered tribal medical cannabis card with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to manage pain she experienced following her knee surgery in 2022. “I am an honest and hard-working person and I will do whatever I can to improve our community,” Fladland said.
According to Hank Prim, law enforcement trainer for the Division of Criminal Investigation, also spoke in support of Fladland’s case. “She was honest on her application,” said Prim. “Had she not been honest on her application, there’s a good chance that the law enforcement commission would not have known about it.”
Many Native American tribes have begun to legalize medical and/or recreational cannabis on tribal land, and benefitting from sales. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe was one of the first in the U.S. to legalize medical cannabis after the Department of Justice’s Cole Memorandum was issued in 2014, and it was also the first dispensary to open in South Dakota.
However, last year the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe told AP News last year that police have arrested more than 100 people who had medical cannabis cards and were buying cannabis at their dispensary. The tribe has issued approximately 8,000 medical cannabis cards to both tribe members, as well as non-tribe members.
According to Flandreau Police Chief Zach Weber, these arrests are valid according to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety and attorney general’s office. “If they have a tribally-issued card and they are non-Native American, we seize the card and any of the marijuana products that they would have,” Weber said.
Recreational cannabis is currently illegal in South Dakota, and although many advocates have worked to get legalization on the ballot, it has failed twice so far.
In June, South Dakota State Rep. Fred Deutsch said he was going to get a medical card just to test the medical cannabis system, although he also said he didn’t plan to buy any cannabis. Previously, Deutsch urged other representatives to vote against a bill that would expand the list of qualifying conditions for eligibility. “Doctors can make a hell of a lot of money just opening up their ‘Doc in a Box Shop,’ and that concerns me,” Deutsch said. “That should concern everybody. I mean, come on. If we’re talking about medical marijuana, we should allow people that really need it to have access to it, and we should prevent people that don’t need it from getting access to it as well.”