Petition Deadline Looms For South Dakota Legalization Campaign

A group attempting to get another legalization proposal on the South Dakota ballot still needs thousands of signatures ahead of next month’s deadline.
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The clock is ticking for a group of South Dakota activists to get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana, the group spearheading the effort to get the initiative on the ballot, said Wednesday that it is more than 3,000 signatures short of where it needs to be.

The deadline to submit the petition to the South Dakota Secretary of State is May 3.

“Our conservative estimate right now is that we’re at 13,500 valid signatures and we need 17,000 valid signatures,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told local television station KELO.

“We are a little nervous, we are within striking distance of getting enough valid signatures and qualifying for the ballot, but really don’t want to take any chances,” Schweich added.

The campaign is also an effort to avenge last year’s legal rulings that undid Amendment A, the constitutional amendment approved by a majority of South Dakota voters in 2020 that legalized recreational pot use for adults.

The state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, was vigorously opposed to the amendment from the start, and took the measure to court last year.

A circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying the amendment violated the state’s constitution.

In November, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling, saying Amendment A violated the constitution’s “one subject” requirement for amendments.

Noem, a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate, celebrated the outcome.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement following the decision. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

South Dakota voters have not celebrated Noem’s approach to cannabis policy, however.

A poll late last year found that only 39% of voters in the Mount Rushmore State approve of her handling of cannabis legalization, while 17.8% said they somewhat disapprove, and 33.4% said they strongly disapprove.

Activists like Schweich hope those numbers––not to mention the passage of Amendment A in 2020––augur well for this November.

But the protracted and messy legal challenge that followed the previous legalization effort has apparently soured some South Dakota voters on the issue.

“South Dakota is sick of it, we’re all exhausted,” said Melissa Mentele, an activist involved in the legalization campaign, as quoted by KELO. “It’s not the issue people are exhausted with, they’re exhausted with the process of I vote, and it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s the biggest thing that we’re running into. It’s not, I already signed this, it’s, why should I sign this because it doesn’t matter,” Mentele added.

As reported by KELO, “Schweich says this signature drive is to put a statutory initiative on the ballot that is a very simplified, shortened version of Amendment A.”

“I would call it legalization for individuals,” Schweich said, as quoted by the station. “It makes it legal for an adult 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce, to cultivate up to three plants at home and it reduces three personal penalties related to how you grow it.”

Lawmakers in South Dakota attempted to get ahead of the ballot initiative by passing their own legalization bill in this year’s current legislative session, but the effort fizzled out.

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