Only weeks after the South Dakota Supreme Court struck down a cannabis legalization initiative passed by voters, state lawmakers will consider more than two dozen bills to reform cannabis policy during the new legislative session beginning this month.
Legislators have already filed at least 38 bills for the legislative session that begins this month, according to media reports. Of them, at least two dozen of the bills tackle policy pertaining to medical marijuana or adult-use cannabis.
Medical Marijuana Bills up for Consideration
Many of the bills coming before the legislature were drafted to implement Initiated Measure 26 (IM 26), a ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis passed by voters in the November 2020 election. Rollout of the state’s new medical cannabis program has begun, with the first medical marijuana identification card being issued by the state in November 2021. Local governments have started to license medical cannabis dispensaries, although the state has yet to issue any cultivation licenses.
IM 26 gave the legislature the authority to pass legislation necessary to implement the measure. Last summer, a legislative Marijuana Interim Study Committee held three meetings to draft legislation to enact provisions of IM 26. Republican State Rep. Fred Deutsch, a member of the committee, said that some of the legislative proposals make minor amendments to the language in the ballot measure.
“I look at all the bills coming through the state Senate as ‘clean up bills,” Deutsch told reporters recently. “They are the result of the summer study, and are pretty much just low-hanging fruit, that is how I think of them. All of them passed by large numbers (in committee.)”
Deutsch noted, however, that the proposed bills retain the spirit of the ballot measure approved by the electorate.
“I want to provide voters the opportunity to have the medical marijuana program that they voted for,” Deutsch said. “A robust, medical program.”
One of the proposals, Senate Bill 10, requires medical marijuana patients to present identification when the purchase cannabis at dispensaries. Senate Bill 16 revises criminal statutes to allow for medical marijuana activities legalized by IM 26, while Senate Bill 18 revises the rule-making authority for medicinal cannabis.
Recreational Marijuana Bill Filed in State Senate
Republican state Senator Michael Rohl is sponsoring Senate Bill 3, a measure that legalizes the use of recreational cannabis by adults 21 and older. The bill also establishes a system to regulate the production and sale of recreational marijuana.
“(The bill) is a compromise between eight members of the Senate and sixteen members of the House,” Republican Senator Michael Rohl, the sponsor of the bill, explained. “The bill would modernize our criminal code and instruct the Department of Revenue to prepare for adult-use cannabis sales in South Dakota.”
Cannabis advocates including Matthew Schweich, director of the Marijuana Policy Project, say it is past time to legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota.
“The support we are seeing in the legislature for cannabis reform, which has never been seen before at this level in South Dakota, is a sign that legislators are listening to their constituents,” said Schweich. “They recognize that South Dakota voters are disappointed and angry with the ruling by the state’s Supreme Court on Amendment A.”
Adult-Use Cannabis Ballot Measure Struck Down
Voters also approved Amendment A, a constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use cannabis, in the November 2020 election. However, Republican Governor Kristi Noem challenged the validity of the measure on technical grounds and supported a lawsuit to nullify the ballot measure approved by voters.
In November 2021, the South Dakota Supreme Court struck down Amendment A, ruling that the proposal covered more than one legislative subject in violation of state rules governing voter-led ballot initiatives. Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote for the majority that the ballot measure clearly contained “provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes.”
After the court’s decision was announced, Noem took to social media to express her support for the ruling.
“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision on Amendment A is about,” Noem tweeted on November 24. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law.”
Noem’s views, however, are not in line with those of South Dakota’s voters. A poll conducted in the state last month found that more than half of the voters disapproved of the governor’s handling of cannabis policy, while only 39 percent said they supported her stance.
South Dakota lawmakers return to the state capitol in Pierre on Tuesday, January 11. The governor is scheduled to make her annual State of the State address the same day at noon Central Standard Time.