Signatures for South Dakota Adult-Use Cannabis Initiative Submitted

Now the Secretary of State must validate the signatures by August for the initiative to appear on the November ballot.
South Dakota

Advocates in South Dakota recently turned in a batch of signatures to get their adult-use cannabis initiative on the ballot in November.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) collected 29,030 signatures and submitted them on May 7, which was the deadline set by the Secretary of State Monae Johnson’s office. Out of that amount, 17,508 must be verified in order for the initiative to appear on the ballot. “Today is the culmination of seven months of hard work by advocates and volunteers across South Dakota,” said SDBML executive director Matthew Schweich. “We are very confident that we have collected enough signatures from registered voters to qualify for this November’s ballot.”

On X, the organization expressed its excitement and confidence that they had collected more than enough signatures in order for the initiative to qualify.

Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota president Deb Peters also commented on the milestone with hope. “Things all seem to be moving in the right direction for South Dakota to finally win the freedom they voted for a few years ago,” Peters said. “At the federal level, things are moving towards a responsible rescheduling and dozens of states are seeing the tax benefits of recreational cannabis legalization. It’s inspiring to see this industry come together and work so hard. We’re looking forward to Election Day.”

If passed, the initiative would allow adults over 21 to buy and possess up to two ounces of cannabis (or 16 grams of concentrates), while also cultivating six plants per person (with a 12-plant maximum for a single household). Possession of cannabis products cannot exceed 1,600 mg of THC.

Meeting this goal was partially due to the secretary of state’s office approving the organization to pay canvassers to pass out ballot material and collect signatures, in addition to the organization’s volunteers, in December 2023. The campaign material they passed out included the title and ballot description.

Johnson’s office has until August 13 to validate the signatures, according to The Washington Post.

SDBML campaign director Matthew Schweich described South Dakota’s history with adult-use legalization as “turbulent,” but there are numerous reasons for voters to support the 2024 measure. “I think for me, the strongest reason at its core is that if we’re going to allow alcohol to be legal in our society, then it makes absolutely no sense to punish people for using cannabis because alcohol is more harmful to the individual and to society than cannabis,” Schweich said.

In 2020, voters approved an adult-use cannabis initiative (Amendment A) and a medical cannabis initiative (Measure 26). Shortly after the votes were tallied, Gov. Kristi Noem expressed her disappointment. “I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities,” Noem said at the time. We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort.”

In February 2021, the adult-use initiative was nullified in court for violating the single subject rule for amending the state constitution. “Amendment A is a revision as it has far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota’s governmental system,” said Judge Christina Klinger. “The failure to submit Amendment A through the proper constitutional process voids the amendment and it has no effect.” It was later struck down in the Supreme Court in November 2021 as well.

Advocates continued onward in 2022 with another adult-use initiative (Measure 27), however voters decided not to show support and it didn’t pass. Polls conducted prior to the vote suggested that 51% of voters were planning on voting against the initiative, while only 40% were planning on supporting it. Final tallies show that 52.92% voted no, while 47.08% voted yes.

The medical cannabis initiative was not challenged back in 2021, but it took a while for legislators to implement rules necessary to get the program up and running. Patients were finally able to apply for a medical cannabis card starting in November 2021. As of August 2023, the South Dakota Department of Health shared that it has issued 11,500 cards since 2021, with 6,000 cards projected to be issued in 2024. “We’ve doubled the amount that we were projecting to see in three years within two years,” said the state’s medical cannabis program administrator, Jennifer Seale.

Although progress has been minimal, there have been other small victories in South Dakota. In July 2023, two law enforcement officers were forgiven for their past cannabis use. The South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Commission heard their cases, although both applicants described their cannabis use as a mistake. “I’m not going to fabricate an excuse. It was a mistake. I was in college, my freshman year,” said applicant Kody Beckers. “Looking back at it now was a blessing in disguise for me. I turned my whole act around.”

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