As South Dakotans have been preparing to pass an adult-use cannabis ballot measure a second time, state lawmakers advanced a bill Feb. 17 that may save voters from their ongoing battle to be heard.
The South Dakota Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted, 5-3, on Thursday to approve legislation that aims to provide for the use and regulated sale of adult-use cannabis in the state. The proposal, Senate Bill 3, has bicameral and bipartisan sponsorship.
As amended, the bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and posses up to 2 ounces of cannabis from licensed retailers and reduce penalties for possessing greater amounts. Under current state laws and penalties, possessing 2 ounces or less is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year of incarceration and a $2,000 fine, while possessing greater amounts is a felony, according to NORML.
Republican Sen. Michael Rohl, the bill’s primary sponsor, told committee members Thursday that the legislation aims to enact one of the more restrictive programs in the country, including a ban on home grows, The Associated Press reported.
When the bill goes to the Senate floor next week, Rohl told committee members he will tell the chamber that “the voters of South Dakota clearly expressed their will” when approving an adult-use measure by a 54.2% majority in the November 2020 election, and that upholding their will “is our complete responsibility. That’s why we’re here.”
Despite the 2020 election results, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled the voter-approved initiative, Amendment A, unconstitutional in November 2021, pointing to a violation of the state’s single-subject rule.
The coalition responsible for putting that initiative on the 2020 ballot, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) has been working to collect the signatures needed for a 2022 ballot measure ever since.
Following the Senate committee approval this week, SDBML put out the following statement on social media:
“Now the bill goes to the full Senate, which means that we need you to call and email your state senator right now! Tell them that you strongly support legalizing cannabis for adults 21 and over. Tell them to restore the will of the people. Tell them that we should not need to do a second ballot initiative to enact a law that South Dakota voters clearly support.”
SDBML campaign director Matthew Schweich told Cannabis Business Times in November that his coalition is ready to work with lawmakers to legalize adult-use cannabis legislatively and would withdraw the 2022 ballot initiative if the Legislature acts, but, until then, SDBML will continue its initiative effort.
While S.B. 3 is moving forward, legalization still has a lineup of opposition among several top Republicans, according to the AP, as well as Gov. Kristi Noem, who voiced opposition before voters approved Amendment A in 2020, and then helped along the subsequent legal battle to strike down the initiative last year.
“At this stage of the game, it’s just not going to happen,” Republican Sen. Gary Cammack said at a news conference earlier Thursday, arguing that lawmakers already had enough to tackle before this state’s 2022 legislative session ends on March 28.
Also during a press conference Thursday, Noem said she’d rather focus on tightening up the state’s medical cannabis program with a stricter vetting process for those receiving access.
“From my understanding, we basically already have recreational marijuana,” she said, referring to Native American lands. “People can walk into a casino or facilities and purchase a prescription from a doctor and get in line and get marijuana.”
Responding to that claim, SDBML put out a statement that the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is the only tribe its coalition members know of with an active medical cannabis program, yet the tribe’s medical card office is not located in its casino.
“For the rest of the state, personal possession of cannabis is technically punishable by up to one year in county jail,” the statement read.
Also included in S.B. 3 as it advances to the Senate floor, the legislature aims to put the Department of Revenue in regulatory authority for an adult-use program, allow local municipalities to opt out of housing cannabis businesses, and ban those with felony convictions from participating in the industry.