Poll: South Dakota Legalization Initiative in Danger of Failing

Two years after a majority of the state’s voters approved a recreational pot proposal, a new legalization bid in South Dakota might go up in smoke this November.
South Dakota

A marijuana legalization initiative in South Dakota is in serious danger of going up in smoke this November, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by the pollster Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy on behalf of the local news nonprofit South Dakota News Watch and the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota, found that a majority of Mount Rushmore State voters are opposed to the legalization of recreational cannabis. 

A little more than 54% of voters said they are against legalization, while just under 44% said they are in favor.

The polling data represents a potential source of concern for legalization activists in South Dakota, who have expressed confidence that the state’s voters will do what they did in 2020 and approve a recreational cannabis proposal at the ballot.

In 2020, 54 percent of South Dakota voters approved Amendment A, which would have legalized recreational cannabis in the state and laid the groundwork for a regulated weed industry.

But the amendment was subject to a legal challenge, led by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, and was ultimately struck down by the state Supreme Court last November.

Organizers quickly went back in the field, ultimately getting a new legalization proposal on this year’s ballot

The new proposal, Initiated Measure 27, legalized possession of cannabis for adults in the state, but defers to the legislature on many of the regulatory details.

Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said in May that the group collected more than 8,000 signatures above the qualification threshold to ensure that it would qualify.

“One of the main reasons why we maintained such ambitious goals for our signature drive was to ensure that we had a healthy margin, so we could deter our opponents from filing a lawsuit,” Schweich told the Argus Leader at the time. “This was the plan to have this buffer and be sure there would be no more lawsuits over cannabis initiatives in South Dakota.”

Following the release of the new poll last week, Schweich said he was confused more than anything.

“When I look a little deeper, I found things that do not make sense to me,” Schweich told local news station KELO. “Some of the numbers don’t really make sense and conflict strongly with previous data that we’ve seen.”

KELO reported that “Schweich pointed out that certain elements within the News Watch/USD poll do not jibe with past indicators of support for legalization in South Dakota.”

“I see this as a flawed poll, but one that I still need to keep in the back of my head as motivation to keep working hard,” Schweich told KELO. “I’m not going to dismiss this poll entirely, and it’s a reminder that we have to work really hard and not take anything for granted because in recent times, it’s gotten harder and harder to predict what an electorate will look like.”

A poll late last year found that a slim majority of South Dakota voters disapproved of Noem’s handling of cannabis legalization, while only 39% said they approved.

During a campaign stop earlier this month, Noem said that she will implement the new cannabis law if a majority of voters approve Initiated Measure 27 in November.

“From what I’ve seen, this amendment this year that will be on the ballot is written more appropriately towards the Constitution,” Noem said, as quoted by the Argus Leader.

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