Bill To Legalize Pot Dies in South Dakota Legislature––For Now

For the time being, recreational cannabis will not be coming to South Dakota, but there could still be hope for the future.
South Dakota
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A proposal in the South Dakota legislature to legalize recreational pot finally cleared one hurdle last week only to be stymied by another on Monday. 

But the legislation, Senate Bill 3, may not be completely dead just yet, much to the joy of advocates. 

The bill, which sought to uphold a ballot proposal that was passed by voters in 2020 but later nullified by the courts, was approved by a single vote in the South Dakota state Senate last week. But that momentum proved to be short-lived.

On Monday, members of the the House State Affairs Committee rejected the bill by a vote of 8-3, although according to local television station KELO, “rumors speculate it could be brought back to life on the House floor later in the week.”

The bill represents just the latest twist in what has become a years-long saga surrounding legalization in the Mount Rushmore State. 

In 2020, voters there passed a pair of measures at the ballot dealing with cannabis: Amendment A, a proposed change to the state constitution to legalize recreational pot for adults aged 21 and older, as well as hemp and medicinal cannabis; and Initiated Measure, which sought to legalize only medicinal cannabis. 

But Amendment A faced resistance from the state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, almost immediately after the ballots were counted.

Noem and a pair of law enforcement officials challenged the amendment in court and, in February of last year, a judge in South Dakota ruled in their favor. In November, a day before Thanksgiving, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling, saying that Amendment A violated the South Dakota Constitution’s “one subject” requirement. 

Supporters of Senate Bill 3 argued last week that the proposal represented a chance for lawmakers to effectively get ahead of voters on the issue, with advocates preparing to get a recreational pot proposal on the South Dakota ballot again this year.

“This is your opportunity to take control of the issue,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Senator David Wheeler, said last week. “This bill is your opportunity to do what the people said they wanted in Amendment A.”

“The train on marijuana is only moving in one direction nationwide,” he added. “It is better for us to get ahead of it.”

But the bill always faced an uphill climb in the state House, which, like the state Senate, is dominated by Republicans. 

“That hasn’t been very favorable in the House,” state House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said last week. “I would assume that’s going to have a decently tough path going forward.”

The legislative session is slated to wrap up next week, but the Associated Press reports that advocates of the legalization bill have “vowed to mount a last-ditch effort to resurrect the proposal on the House floor—a move called a smoke out that would require widespread support from House Republicans.”

The vote against Senate Bill 3 wasn’t the only action that the House committee took on cannabis this week. According to the Argus Leader newspaper, the committee also “advanced a separate measure that repeals portions of the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2020.”

The measure would eliminate language in the current medical cannabis law that “allows individuals without certification from the state’s Department of Health who are arrested for small amounts of cannabis to claim what’s known as an ‘affirmative defense’ in front of a judge,” the newspaper reported.

“In other words, marijuana possession charges can be dismissed by a court if a defendant can show they have conditions that qualify them for a medical marijuana card,” the Argus Leader said.

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