Medical marijuana is legal in South Dakota on July 1.
But don’t rush to your doctor for a pot prescription. Slow your roll, medicinal stoners.
The state won’t allow anyone to twist up a joint, pack a pipe or bong their brains out — for medicinal reasons, of course — until late October at the earliest. Why? Because of legal challenges, bureaucracy — and Gov. Kristi Noem’s determined efforts to block it since both medical and recreational marijuana were approved by voters last fall.
There are still areas as unclear as a college dorm room after a smokefest with Snoop Dogg or Allman Brothers music hovering in the air. The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe plans to offer medical pot for sale.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports that the tribe is hiring people to dispense marijuana as soon as possible. Other tribes may have the same authority on their own property: it’s a legal question yet to be decided.
The Black Hills Pioneer newspaper is investigating how the law will play out. Lawrence County State’s Attorney John Fitzgerald is trying to sort things out, but he believes people with medical marijuana certificates from other states would be able to legally purchase pot from a legal dispensary.
However, the state may not allow any to exist until Oct. 29, at least on non-tribal property.
Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County also are trying to figure out how to handle this sea change in marijuana laws. It’s going to be an issue for every county, city and town, since local laws can and will vary.
So, while South Dakotans wanted marijuana — both recreational and medical — legal as of July 1, the state has been fighting it since the votes were counted.
Recreational pot has been blocked on a technical issue by Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger — a Noem appointee, by the way. The case is now before the South Dakota Supreme Court, and it could issue a decision to make this even more confusing.
Which is why it was surprising that the state launched a medical cannabis website this week, and Noem (seen above in a Lex Villena and Gage Skidmore created montage published in reason) issued a statement of support for it as well as a YouTube video that features … her, of course.
“One of my jobs as governor is to make sure that the will of the people and all constitutional laws are enforced,” Noem said in the statement. “I want South Dakota to have the best, most patient-focused medical cannabis program in the country. I’ve heard from people who are hurting and are hopeful for relief. My team is 100% committed to starting this program as quickly and as responsibly as possible for South Dakota.”
The state Departments of Health and Education will create and operate the new regulatory program — “to ensure the safety of patients, students, and the public in this new industry,” according to a release from the state.
Noem said the state is trying to clear the air on this.
“We are working hard to streamline the process to get medical cards out to people,” she said. “Other states have made mistakes that we do not want to repeat, so we have been careful in our approach.“
Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the national Marijuana Policy Project and a key player in the South Dakota grassroots (you know I was going to use it at some point) campaigns, wonders why Noem has changed her message so dramatically.
Could politics be more her concern than pot? That’s his question.
“Why did @govkristinoem decide to film a video for the recently-launched http://medcannabis.sd.gov (the state government’s website for South Dakota’s medical cannabis program) after spending so much time and effort on her anti-cannabis crusade?” Schweich asked on Twitter.
“Maybe it’s because she likes to feature herself in SD government videos (see the SD tourism ads) as a means to bolster her profile. Her general attitude is that state resources can be used for political purposes (see bringing SD Highway Patrol Officers to ME for Trump event).
“But I have another theory … I think that the governor’s pollsters have told her that the anti-cannabis crusade is quite unpopular with South Dakota voters. So now she needs to pivot. Now she needs to be the responsible and compassionate steward of medical marijuana.
Most people don’t realize that @govkristinoem “very narrowly” won election in 2018 despite being a well-funded Republican with strong name recognition running against a non-incumbent Democrat in a red state (SD hasn’t elected a Dem for governor since the 70s).”
1974, to be precise, when Democratic Gov. Dick Kneip won his third term. Since then, Bill Janklow won four terms, George S. Mickelson, Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard each won a pair of terms.
Noem defeated Democratic candidate Billie Sutton 51-48%, with a margin of about 11,500 votes. She was swept to victory by bright red West River voters; Sutton carried Sioux Falls, and nearly a third of South Dakota voters reside in the Sioux Falls metro area.
Many of those voters also supported both recreational and medical marijuana. Both garnered a high — sure, had to use that, too — percentage of the vote than Noem did, and there’s no doubt she noticed.
That’s why Schweich wondered if that explains her sudden statements of support for legal smoke.
“There’s not much margin for error next year,” he wrote. “Trampling on the will of the people, attacking personal freedoms, and advocating for harsh marijuana laws is not a luxury she can afford. So now we’re seeing a rebranding. I don’t think South Dakotans will be fooled.”
He makes several good points. One question is, will South Dakota Democrats put pot on their platform? They avoided endorsing marijuana and legalized sports gambling in 2020, when they lost statewide races while both issues were approved.
Could marijuana become a crucial issue in the 2022 election? Will Democrats roll with it?
Does Noem, a canny politician who has never lost a race, defeating some prominent opponents in the past decade, realize that? Is she trying to position herself so she won’t be hurt by it in her bid for a second term?
Right now, it’s too smoky to see the future clearly.
Tom Lawrence has written for several newspapers and websites in South Dakota and other states and contributed to NPR, The London Telegraph, The Daily Beast and other media outlets.