South Dakota Governor’s Office Introduces Decriminalization Bill

While the considered proposal is a step, activists maintain that it’s not a significant enough step.
South Dakota Governor’s Office Introduces Decriminalization Bill

To the surprise of many, South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem is considering a bill that would decriminalize cannabis in South Dakota. While Noem has been unflinchingly strict on cannabis before, she is now starting to loosen up a bit, though not enough for some advocates.

The legislation, which is being proposed by the governor’s office, would limit the number of plants medical cannabis patients could have, as well as stop the process of incarcerating people for possessing small amounts of recreational cannabis. Up to an ounce, or eight grams of concentrate, would simply get a petty offense charge, no jail time, as long as the person was 21 or older. Repeat offenses would result in a class 2 misdemeanor instead of a felony charge. 

“This is one of several draft bills being circulated for discussion and Gov. Noem has not endorsed any of them,” said Tony Venhuizen, Noem’s chief of staff.

Noem is allegedly concerned about the medical statutes that will go into effect this summer, as they don’t specify a cap for how many medical plants a patient can have in their home. Under this new proposal, the limit would be three.

A competing proposal drafted by cannabis advocates South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws sets the limit for home-grown plants at six instead, and wants less severe charges for those under 21 found to be in possession of cannabis. The competing proposal has some backing from senators who are more pro-cannabis and feel that Noem’s bill doesn’t go far enough. 

Senator Mike Rohl, a Republican, feels that this proposal is still too strict, although he also calls it a “workable start.” Ideally, he would like to see a six-plant limit, something that would allow some plants to be in the early growth stages while others are already flowering and producing buds. That way, patients will have steady access to the medicine they need. He also wants to see slightly less stringent charges for minors. 

“I think that should be a class 2 offense—because that’s the same as alcohol,” Rohl said, referring to underage possession. “These things are going on criminal records and staying with them for the rest of their life.”

What Happens Next?

It’s not yet clear when this proposal will be officially considered, but it will likely happen next week, on Veto Day in the state, or during a special session. Many feel the special session is the most likely, so that legislators have time to weigh their options and consider what to do. 

“I’m aware of the broad strokes (of the amendment), but my stance is I don’t think this is something we should do on Veto Day,” said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican. “It should be done through a special session so the bill can have a fair hearing.”

In addition to his personal beliefs, Gosch also feels it is “very unlikely” that the legislature would consider the amendment as soon as next week, and thinks that most lawmakers will prefer having more time. 

While this is still a baby step, it is enough to put South Dakota on the map in terms of cannabis access.

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