News, Politics

9 Months Post Legalization, South Dakota Consumers Are Still Waiting

September 16, 2021 03:30 pm ET
9 Months Post Legalization, South Dakota Consumers Are Still Waiting

Nine months ago, voters in South Dakota contributed to the simultaneous legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis. Despite the fact that the state’s cannabis market is quickly approaching its one-year anniversary, consumers are still unable to purchase the plant (in any form) legally.

Why? Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is a committed critic of legalization and is doing her utmost to prevent a legal market from coming to fruition. Regardless of her freedom-focused agenda, she is even backing a lawsuit to rescind South Dakota’s voter-approved cannabis measure on constitutional grounds. “I don’t think anybody got smarter by smoking [cannabis],” Noem is quoted as saying to reporters during a previous interview. 

Noem’s case is currently pending a decision by the state’s Supreme Court. According to the governor, state voters made a poor choice by approving the constitutional amendment. Notwithstanding her bold remarks, a majority happily voted to legalize adult-use cannabis in the conservative state. 

South Dakota’s 2020 Cannabis Ballot Initiative 

On July 1, 2021, following a successful ballot initiative that took place on Nov. 3, 2020, medical cannabis in South Dakota was made legal. The South Dakota secretary of state certified Initiated Measure 26 on Dec. 19, 2019.

A total of 69.9% of “yes” votes led to the medical cannabis measure’s passing. In addition to this, 54.2% of voters voted in favor of Constitutional Amendment A, which sought to legalize the use of recreational cannabis in South Dakota. IM 26 was effectuated on July 1, 2021–the same date on which Amendment A was set to go into effect. Unfortunately, residents still cannot procure the plant for recreational purposes. 

In a sudden twist of events that transpired on Feb. 8, 2021, a judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of Amendment A. Based on the ruling, the law violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot measures and was therefore deemed “unconstitutional.” Consequently, recreational cannabis legalization in South Dakota remains in limbo; the law is currently pending review by a higher court.

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South Dakota’s cannabis laws continue to be some of the harshest in the United States. Anyone caught possessing edibles, concentrates, and/or hash—regardless of the amount—will be charged with a Class 4 felony. Such a crime is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a penalty of up to $20,000.

Cannabis Reform at a National Level

Even though the governor of South Dakota is maintaining a prohibitionist approach to legalization, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is hopeful that the growing level of nationwide support may influence lawmakers to federally decriminalize cannabis. Should federal decriminalization happen, South Dakota’s cannabis consumers wouldn’t need to worry too much about Noem’s persistent resistance to reform laws.

“If South Dakota can do it, the Senate should be able to do it,” Schumer is quoted as saying during an archived recording. He makes a good point, considering the fact that 55% of the red state’s residents voted in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis last year. Plus, there have been many developments since Noem first assumed her position as governor in 2018. One example is the economic decline caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which could be alleviated by revenue from legal cannabis.

Schumer’s cannabis reform efforts were praised at a recent press conference on Tuesday, July 13. Held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the conference saw Schumer unveil a new cannabis bill titled “The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.” He was joined by Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

If Schumer’s cannabis bill is approved and adopted, it would put an end to the federal ban on cannabis. Consequently, this would result in the green plant being regulated and taxed in the same way as alcohol and tobacco. However, Schumer has admitted that the bill currently lacks the necessary support to pass.

“We don’t have the votes necessary at this point,” Schumer said during a press conference in July. “But we have a large majority of our caucus for it. We’re going to show it to the others and say, ‘Well, what don’t you like? What do you like? And we’ll see if we can get the support.’ We’re going to put our muscle behind it, all our effort behind it, and we’re going to get this done ASAP.”

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Bethan Rose Jenkins
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