South Dakota marijuana legalization bills

Statewide polling indicates a majority of South Dakotans will vote for both marijuana legalization measures at November’s ballot.

Initiated Measure 26 would establish a medical cannabis program in South Dakota for qualifying patients as certified by a physician. The other measure, Constitutional Amendment A, would legalize possession and sales of up to one ounce of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. With the support of New Approach South Dakota, Marijuana Policy Project and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, both measures garnered the required number of signatures to qualify for the ballot.

South Dakota is one of three states that still prohibits every form of cannabis, including CBD derivatives that don’t contain THC. South Dakota’s marijuana laws stipulate possession of any amount of cannabis is punishable by up to one year in jail, plus a $2,000 fine and criminal record. It will become the first state to vote on two separate marijuana legalization initiatives at the same election.

The survey results come courtesy of No Way On A, a campaign opposed to legalizing adult-use marijuana in South Dakota. The group is organized by the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce, which claims to be neutral with regard to the separate medical marijuana ballot measure.

The polling was carried out with the help of Lawrence and Schiller, a Sioux Falls marketing company, and Public Opinion Strategies, a right-leaning public policy research firm. They found 70 percent of respondents approved of the measure to legalize medical marijuana, while around 60 percent said they intended to vote for recreational marijuana in South Dakota come election day.

Chamber of Commerce President David Owen said the apparent support for both measures is not all it seems. He claims it arises from confusion among voters regarding the differences between the two proposals.

“Going back to the numbers, we know that a significant portion of that majority for (legalized recreational marijuana use) thinks it’s related to medical,” Owen said, as told to the Argus Leader.

When asked why they supported the measure to legalize recreational cannabis, 26 percent of respondents pointed to marijuana’s medical value, 19 percent said the plant helps people, while 13 percent noted it treats medical conditions.

Owen said No Way On A and the state’s Chamber of Commerce is against amending South Dakota’s constitution to legalize adult-use marijuana largely because Initiated Measure 26 already offers a pathway to a medical cannabis program.

Marijuana reform advocates take a different view. They argue passage of both measures is necessary to ensure the legislature can’t bypass the will of the voters and water down the measure. Melissa Mentele, who filed the medical cannabis ballot proposal on behalf of New Approach South Dakota, noted initiated measures can be amended by lawmakers after voter approval, while constitutional amendments – such as that to legalize adult-use marijuana – cannot be changed without a confirmatory public vote.

“I don’t trust that if we have one pass and not the other that they wouldn’t go in and remove key parts of the bill,” Mentele said.

This suspicion is fuelled by the fact the state’s governor, Kirsti Noem, has made her opposition to both measures perfectly clear, while Republicans went so far as to write a Facebook post last year urging people not to sign the marijuana legalization ballot initiatives.

South Dakota is one of five states set to vote on marijuana legalization at November’s elections.

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