Legal Cannabis May Be Coming To South Dakota

South Dakota’s campaigns for legalization have drawn support from national nonprofits.
Legal Cannabis May Be Coming To South Dakota
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota/ Wikimedia Commons

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota groups submitted separate signed petitions Monday that would allow residents to vote next year on whether to legalize medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

Monday was the deadline for submitting signatures to the South Dakota secretary of state’s office for measures for the November 2020 ballot.

One proposal would create a medical marijuana program for patients with serious health conditions. The other would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and require the state Legislature to enact a hemp cultivation law.

New Approach South Dakota submitted more than 30,000 signatures to put the medical marijuana initiative on the ballot. The same group tried to get medical marijuana on South Dakota’s ballot last year but fell short of enough valid signatures. The minimum number of signatures required for an initiative to change state law is 16,961.

Melissa Mentele, director of New Approach South Dakota and sponsor of the medical marijuana ballot initiative, said her group has asked the Legislature to approve medical marijuana for years.

“Despite the fact that a strong majority of South Dakotans support allowing legal, regulated, and safe access to medical marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions, elected officials have failed to take action. Patients cannot afford to wait any longer, and this ballot initiative is our only recourse,” Mentele said in a news release.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws submitted more than 50,000 signatures to put legalizing marijuana to a vote. The proposal would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and older and would require the Legislature to pass laws regulating cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. They needed 33,921 signatures for an initiative to change the South Dakota Constitution.

“We are proud to have submitted petitions on behalf of over 80,000 South Dakotans who believe that voters should decide out state’s marijuana and hemp laws,” said Brendan Johnson, a former federal prosecutor and Democrat who is sponsor of the legalization ballot initiative.

The secretary of state’s office will now begin certifying signatures. Supporters expect that will take a few months.

South Dakota lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 to legalize industrial hemp, but Republican Gov. Kristi Noem voted it. Legislators are writing another bill to legalize hemp in 2020, but Noem has promised another veto, saying law enforcement can’t differentiate between hemp and marijuana. Hemp is related to cannabis but does not contain enough THC to make someone high.

Two national nonprofits, the Marijuana Policy Project and New Approach PAC, support the South Dakota campaign.

“Right now, there are South Dakotans with serious health conditions who are forced to break the law in order to access effective medical treatments that allow them to live healthier and more productive lives, and that is unacceptable,” Marijuana Policy Product deputy director Matthew Schweich said in a statement.

Eleven states have legalized marijuana for adults, and an additional 22 states have enacted medical marijuana laws. South Dakota would be the first state to approve both policies on a single ballot, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

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