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4/20 Events At South Dakota’s Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Double As Petition Drives For Full Legalization



“I am a little nervous about our total signature count. I think it’s really important that supporters of cannabis reforms are not complacent.”

By John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

Cannabis advocates in South Dakota hope the weekend’s unofficial pot holiday and its associated concerts and dispensary discounts will improve the odds of getting recreational marijuana on the general election ballot in November.

April 20 is widely celebrated in the cannabis community as 4/20, and dispensaries in South Dakota took advantage of the date to offer special deals to medical marijuana patients.

The number began its evolution from an inside joke into an international code for pot culture after 1971. That was the year a group of high school kids in California began to meet at 4:20 p.m. after school to smoke marijuana. One of those students wound up working with the band The Grateful Dead, whose members and fans adopted the shorthand. The number eventually caught the attention of a reporter for the marijuana-centric High Times magazine, who put it in the publication and presented it to a wide audience.

Events double as petition drives

The events in South Dakota extend beyond dispensaries. Big’s Bar in Sioux Falls hosted its fourth annual 420 fest tonight, with music from local acts Tuff Roots and Denham. ICON Lounge hosted comedian Sarah King that night, and the Hello Hi bar hosted DJ Relic.

The events and dispensary discount sales doubled as signature drives this year. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws aimed to collect 27,000 petition signatures in hopes of hitting the required 17,508 needed from registered voters to make the ballot. Signatures must be delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office by May 7.

At last count, the group had 12,500 signatures, said Matthew Schweich, who leads the marijuana law advocacy group.

“I am a little nervous about our total signature count,” Schweich told South Dakota Searchlight last week. “I think it’s really important that supporters of cannabis reforms are not complacent. With less than three weekends to go, I’m hoping we can have a big weekend.”

The group has held drive-through petition signing events, Schweich said, to bolster the work of its paid petition circulators.

Nearly every dispensary in the state also keeps signature sheets on hand. But Schweich said it’s clear that not all of the 13,581 medical marijuana cardholders in the state have signed the petitions.

Schweich hoped the weekend would change that.

“The reason patients can go to these dispensaries this weekend and purchase cannabis that’s safe and regulated is because of advocates,” said Schweich, whose organization launched the website to help its supporters find petition locations. “If you’re going to enjoy the benefits of this excellent policy, it behooves you to support this work.”

Dispensary owners have done more than make petitions available, according to Kittridge Jeffries, owner of Puffy’s Dispensary shops in Rapid City and Sturgis.

Jeffries and others collect signatures as volunteers for Grow South Dakota, another state-level marijuana reform group.

“We’ve been collecting like crazy,” Jeffries said on Thursday, as he worked to get his shop “all pretty” for what he expected would be a busy weekend. “I’ve been putting a lot of miles on the car these last few weeks.”

On Wednesday night, for example, Jeffries said he was out collecting signatures at “Stoner Bingo,” a weekly game at Aby’s bar in Rapid City. Aby’s hosted a special session of Stoner Bingo this weekend in recognition of the pot holiday.

Jeffries is confident that the people of South Dakota will ultimately back recreational marijuana, which he said will keep the state from spending money to police adult pot use. Voters previously approved recreational and medical marijuana in 2020, but the recreational portion of the ballot measure was invalidated in court.

“I think the people in South Dakota have spoken about freedom, and when we talk about freedom, we’re talking about adults over the age of 21 being able to use marijuana in small amounts in a fashion they see fit,” Jeffries said. “It fits right in line with South Dakota values of being the freest state in the country.”

Medical pot card company supporting events

Moe Branson’s organization is also backing the weekend petition push in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Branson is the CEO of My Marijuana Cards, which he said is responsible for 70 percent of the medical marijuana cards issued in South Dakota. The organization has storefronts in Sioux Falls and Rapid City and a satellite office in Yankton where patients with the appropriate medical paperwork can meet with a medical provider to determine their eligibility.

Some patients get rejected, but Branson said his company wants to work with people who might be eligible but lack the appropriate records. South Dakota’s major health systems have not embraced the issuance of medical marijuana cards, so Branson said the company’s role is important for patient access.

“Just in general, we’re here to help patients get their medical marijuana cards and reduce the stigma by providing education and information, around not just the state program, but around cannabis writ large.”

The company used the whole week as a “patient appreciation week,” Branson said, and its storefronts had cookies—without cannabis in them—alongside recreational petitions and information on marijuana.

“We can always see it as an opportunity to get additional patients set up, but we’ll always have petitions out,” Branson said.

The company also has a South Dakota-specific section of its website for the “fun holiday.” Among its offerings: a list of “42 weed movies for 420” and a page on the history of 4/20.

Branson suspects it will take time, even if recreational marijuana makes the ballot and is passed by voters, before the substance and its associated culture goes mainstream in South Dakota.

South Dakota lawmakers have added new requirements for medical marijuana during every session since voters passed a medical marijuana initiative in 2020.

“South Dakota’s an interesting state,” Branson said. “A lot of it depends on what the government wants to do. It’s really going to take changing the minds of politicians.”

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Medical cannabis is legal in all but 12 states. The drug remains illegal on the federal level.

The recreational marijuana measure is one of eight circulating for potential inclusion on the November 5 ballot, including high-profile measures seeking open primaries, abortion rights and a repeal of sales taxes on food. The Legislature has also exercised its right to place two measures on the ballot: one would replace references to male officeholders in the state constitution with neutral language, and the other would ask voters to lift a prohibition against work requirements for Medicaid expansion enrollees.

This story was first published by South Dakota Searchlight.

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