South Dakota Adult-Use Ballot Initiative Approved, Giving Voters Third Chance

Secretary of State Monae L. Johnson announced that Initiated Measure 29 will appear on the ballot.
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An initiative to approve adult-use cannabis will appear on the ballot in South Dakota. Is the third time the charm? South Dakota voters will have a third chance to approve a ballot initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis, this time, Initiated Measure 29, which will appear on the 2024 general election ballot on Nov. 5.

On Monday, Secretary of State Monae Johnson’s office validated a measure that will appear on the November general election ballot. The campaign collected 22,558 valid signatures, which is about 5,000 more than is required for ballot placement. 

“Secretary of State Monae L. Johnson announces that a petition submitted for an initiated measure was validated and filed by her office today,” a June 3 press release reads. “This ballot question would legalize the recreational use, possession, and distribution of marijuana. The title for the ballot question will be Initiated Measure 29.”

It will be the third time South Dakota voters have weighed in on the question to approve cannabis for adult use. The Associated Press reports that in 2020, voters passed a measure, Amendment A, to legalize adult-use cannabis. South Dakota’s voters approved an adult-use ballot initiative in November 2020 by a solid 54% margin, However, the referendum was reversed by litigation. The measure  was ultimately struck down in court. 

Voters tried once again, two years ago. The campaign’s second initiative in 2022 was rejected by voters by 52%. (A medical cannabis initiative that was also approved by voters in 2020 was not challenged.)

State leaders have stood in the way of cannabis reform, giving the agenda to legalize a fight. The push to strike down the amendment passed by voters in November was spearheaded by Gov. Kristi Noem. “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. “We do things right—and how we do things—matters just as much as what we are doing.”

If passed, the bill would legalize adult-use cannabis for people 21 and older. Adults over 21 would be able to buy and possess up to two ounces of cannabis or 16 grams of concentrate, with a limit of six plants per person with a 12-plant maximum for a single household. In addition, possession of cannabis products cannot exceed 1,600 mg of THC.

The bill imposed a limit of 2 ounces of cannabis in forms other than concentrate or flower. The measure also allows cultivation of plants, with several restrictions. Proponents plan to work with the Legislature to implement business licensing, tax and other regulations, if passed.

Proponents remain hopeful that voters will approve the bill. “We firmly believe that South Dakotans deserve to make their own choices on how they live their lives, including the freedom to responsibly use cannabis,” Zebadiah Johnson, political director for the campaign to legalize adult-use cannabis, said in a statement.

Protecting South Dakota Kids chair Jim Kinyon said the state’s voters already had a say on the issue and rejected recreational marijuana back in 2022. He criticized supporters’ repeated efforts to put the issue to a vote.

“How many times does the state of South Dakota need to reject recreational marijuana before the industry will accept the decision of the state’s citizens?” Kinyon said.

“I expect that the industry will triple down on their money to try and sway and disuade voters,” Protecting South Dakota Kids chairperson Jim Kinyon said.

The Path to the Ballot

The road to the ballot is due to the efforts of advocates and canvassers who worked tirelessly. Last May, advocates in South Dakota turned in a batch of signatures to get the adult-use cannabis initiative on the ballot in November.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) collected signatures (initially a 29,030 count) 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.”

Achieving this goal was partially due to the secretary of state’s office approval 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.

South Dakota voters will once again head to the polls to decide if the state will move forward and legalize adult-use cannabis. If passed, it would make South Dakota the 25th state to approve adult use.

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