Nearly a year after voters said “yes” to legalizing use of cannabis among adults, a summer study committee approved the draft bill on a 14-to-10 vote. If approved by the full Legislature, the bill would put back in place an adult marijuana program that was struck down by a circuit judge in Pierre.
A separate measure to impose a 15% excise tax on sale of marijuana also passed the committee, though by a wider margin.
The approval means a measure will now go with the committee’s seal of approval for consideration to the executive board. With their approval, the bill would land in the 2022 legislative session — though as Chair Bryan Breitling, R-Miller, explained at the meeting’s outset, any lawmaker can still bring a separate bill to tweak the state’s medical program or approve a recreational program or what he called “this new industry in South Dakota.”
But the Wednesday morning, Oct. 27, meeting began with the committee bogged down in debate about the merits of legalization.
Representatives of law enforcement and a state’s attorney for Minnehaha County opened public testimony with a litany of attacks, repeating previously aired concerns about safety for children and the spurring of a black market.
“I’m not confident that I’ll be sitting here in a couple years saying, ‘Hey, this has been a great thing in Minnehaha County,'” said Daniel Haggar, the county’s state’s attorney. He said a preemptive defense protection in the voter-approved Initiated Measure 26 has hampered policing efforts of marijuana crimes.
Ryan Flogstad, a sergeant with the Sioux Falls Police Department, went even further than past testimony. He said there has been an uptick in criminal marijuana activity among young adults in Sioux Falls. He even attributed recent gun crime in the city to pot.
“There’s bullets flying,” Flogstad said.
As has been common since the summer study’s earliest meetings last spring, such public testimony received pushback from advocates for the industry.
“The status quo is prohibition,” noted Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist representing a group of cannabis entrepreneurs in the state. “Clearly, prohibition isn’t working.”
“You would think the election never even happened,” said Ned Horsted, executive director of Cannabis Industry Association.
The committee voted in a series of amendments to a previously approved draft bill that would legalize marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, maintain criminal penalties for selling or giving to minors, and set up penalties for any dispensary owner whose shop sold to someone under the age of 21.
Most notably, the committee walked back and removed language that would’ve struck down the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana program. Some legislators in a sub-committee meeting last week said that measure would become duplicative should the state legalize adult use.
Lawmakers Wednesday remained somewhat confused about aspects of the programs. In discussing packaging and labeling, Rep. Caleb Finck, R-Tripp, asked if sufficient safeguards to protect children and consumers about the products were required by law.
“If a pot brownie is next to a regular brownie, it’s hard to tell the difference,” observed Finck. “If we’re going to allow the edible piece of this, there needs to be some significant work on how that is labeled and packaged and sold.”
But as Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, pointed out, marijuana-containing products would still, even under an adult use program, only be sold in a dispensary, which bars children from entrance.
The Legislature’s executive board next meets on Wednesday, Nov. 17.