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South Dakota Could Pass Two Marijuana Ballot Measures In November

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Can green win in red South Dakota? Perhaps the state isn’t as red as it seems.

By Phil Smith, StoptheDrugWar.org

Marijuana is on the ballot in South Dakota this year. This is a state that has the dubious distinction of being the only one to twice defeat a medical marijuana initiative. And it has another dubious distinction: It’s the only state where people get prosecuted for having marijuana show up on a drug test.

That South Dakota has reactionary drug laws is not surprising; it is a pretty reactionary state. It voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has (in)famously discussed adding the president’s likeness to Mt. Rushmore with him. The state’s congressional delegation is all-GOP, including Senate Majority Whip John Thune, and Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well, holding a supermajority in both for nearly a quarter-century.

Still, not one but two marijuana initiatives managed to find enough support to make the ballot, and local organizers supported by national reform groups New Approach PAC and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) are hoping that marijuana’s momentum can overcome rock-ribbed Republican recalcitrance on the prairie come November.

The first, Initiated Measure 26, led by New Approach South Dakota, would create a medical marijuana program for patients with doctor-certified specified debilitating medical conditions. Patients could possess up to three ounces and grow up to three plants — or more if a doctor okays it. The state Department of Health would create and enforce rules and regulations.

The second, Constitutional Amendment A, would legalize up to an ounce for adults 21 and over and set up a system of taxed and regulated cultivation and sales. It would allow people to grow up to three plants at home — but only if there are no retail sales outlets in their local government jurisdiction. The amendment would also require the legislature to legalize the sale of hemp and create a state medical marijuana program by April 1, 2022.

Can green win in red South Dakota? Perhaps the state isn’t as red as it seems, said Michael Card, an associate professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

“There are more no-party voter registrations now,” he said in a phone interview. “Within five years, independents will probably come close to catching up to Republicans. Democrats are fleeing the party because they don’t win.”

“Our campaign is really bipartisan; this isn’t a partisan issue,” said Melissa Mentele, director of New Approach South Dakota, which is leading the effort for the medical marijuana initiative. “It doesn’t matter what your party is; this is something that has brought so many people together,” she said in a phone interview.

And it’s no longer the last century or even the last decade, pointed out MPP campaigns coordinator Jared Moffat, who is working with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws in support of both initiatives.

“It’s been 10 years since the last attempt to reform South Dakota’s marijuana laws through the ballot, and in that time, a lot has changed,” he said in an email exchange. “Support for marijuana policy reform has increased significantly in every part of the county and 11 states have adopted adult-use legalization laws — and they’re working well. No state has made a serious attempt to repeal those laws. We also have recent internal polling of South Dakotans that suggests we have a great shot at passing both initiatives.”

“We’ve had six years of education leading up to this medical marijuana initiative, the same bill has been sponsored twice in the legislature, it’s been debated publicly, there’s been a lot of media, and I think it’s time,” said Mentele. It will take a nice, slow, steady march to victory,” she added.

When queried about the need for a separate medical marijuana initiative, she bristled just a bit.

“We need to press forward with both,” she said. “Legalizing adult use is beneficial to the economy, but I’m a patient advocate; I’m about things like teaching people how to move off of opioids and pharmaceuticals, and when adult use programs come on board they tend to swallow medical programs. We don’t want that to happen. We want two distinct markets with a tax break for patients. The people who aren’t medical can buy it and pay taxes, but a true medical marijuana program passes savings on to patients.”

So, will both pass, will one pass, will neither pass?

“If I had to predict, expecting high turnout for the presidential race, you’re looking at Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County, the largest county in the state voting for it, and probably Brookings and Clay counties [home of South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, respectively], and Union County, and the reservation counties,” said Michael Card, associate professor of political science at USD in a phone interview.

But that means a whole lot of South Dakota counties likely won’t be voting for either medical or recreational marijuana this fall. Still, with the Sioux Falls metro area population of 266,000 constituting nearly 30% of the entire state population, that makes up for a number of sparsely-populated, more conservative counties. It’s going to be competitive.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the constitutional amendment passed because of the inclusion of industrial hemp and the taxation of marijuana,” said Card. “If I were leading the campaign, I’d be telling people this is a tax you don’t have to pay. It’s also being supported by a former US attorney, Brendan Johnson.”

But, Card said, it’s also possible that voters could reject legalization and just pass medical marijuana. “Our population is aging, we’re seeing more patients, and even for many youth there are medicinal uses, so the idea that they could vote down legalization and approve medical is certainly plausible,” he said.

“The governor is very strongly against marijuana in any way, shape, or form,” said Card. “She kept the South Dakota legislature from adopting a farmers’ hemp cultivation bill. She drew a line in the sand and said no way.”

Noem is not alone in opposing marijuana reforms; the usual suspects are also out to block it. In July, the South Dakota Medical Association came out against both initiatives and will write the opposition statement that will appear on the general election ballot. The association maintains that marijuana is a hazardous drug and a public health concern.

Also in July, the legalization initiative drew organized opposition in the form of a ballot committee calling itself NO Way on Amendment. That group is led by David Own, the president of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is being joined by law enforcement, public officials, and social work leaders.

“South Dakota’s current marijuana laws aren’t working, and they are not serving South Dakotans’ best interests,” argued Moffat. “Amendment A and Measure 26 will fix what’s broken and establish a commonsense approach that provides relief to patients, improves public safety, and strengthens South Dakota’s economy.”

The campaign is still honing messages for key voters, he added, but will likely emphasize the need for tax revenues in the face of economic downturns and the need to get marijuana out of the criminal justice system. He noted that one out of 10 arrests in the state in 2018 was for marijuana. The campaign will also make the argument that passage of the constitutional amendment is necessary to protect medical marijuana from legislative chicanery, as happened with a campaign finance law approved by voters in 2016 and gutted in Pierre.

The campaign is in decent financial shape in small-market South Dakota and ready to do battle, said Moffat.

“With significant in-state and national support, as well as an expanding small-dollar fundraising effort, we are feeling good about the campaign budget at this point. Compared to other states where there are competitive national races, we expect our advertising dollars will go pretty far in South Dakota,” he said. “We never want to underestimate the opposition. Right now, it’s not clear what they are willing to spend, in terms of both money and political capital, to fight us. My sense is that they’re not willing to expend much, but that could change. We’ll have to see.”

Indeed. Early voting starts September 18.

This piece was first published by StoptheDrugWar.org.

Montana Will Vote On Two Marijuana Legalization Measures In November, State Confirms

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Marijuana Bill Up For House Vote Could ‘Reverse’ Federal-State Policy Gap, Congressional Research Service Says

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A bill to federally legalize marijuana that is scheduled for a House vote next week could “reverse” the current cannabis policy gap that exists between states and the federal government, a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report says.

In an analysis of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act that was published on Wednesday, CRS described the various complications resulting from ongoing federal prohibition as more states opt to legalize cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. The research agency said the legislation could inadvertently create a new schism where federal policy would be more progressive than those of certain states.

That’s because the bill does not require states to stop criminalizing cannabis, and so jurisdictions with prohibition still on the books could continue to punish people over marijuana even as such activity is legalized at the federal level.

“If the MORE Act became law, it could create a new divide between federal and state law—essentially the reverse of the current marijuana policy gap, since federal marijuana law would become less strict than some state laws,” CRS wrote. “The MORE Act could also highlight the inconsistency between marijuana laws in different U.S. jurisdictions by repealing the uniform federal prohibition and leaving in place a patchwork of varying state laws.”

The MORE Act, whose lead sponsor is Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

The legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

“Congress may be content to allow states to experiment with varying approaches to marijuana regulation,” CRS said. “In the alternative, Congress might prefer a more uniform approach, whether that approach is to criminalize or decriminalize marijuana, or something in between. However, while Congress can pass legislation creating a uniform federal policy, there are limits to its ability to affect state law.”

The agency said that while lawmakers lack the “constitutional authority to alter state criminal law,” they could “preempt state law through Commerce Clause legislation” or “encourage states to change their laws through the use of the spending power.”

To that end, while the MORE Act does not create a federal regulatory structure for cannabis or force states to change their own laws, it does include provisions that incentivize the adoption certain local reform policies. For example, it offers federal funding for “eligible states” that take steps to expunge prior cannabis convictions and stop penalizing people on parole for marijuana-related offenses.

“Congress could also invoke its spending power to encourage states to regulate marijuana more stringently, and has previously used the spending power to shape drug policy in targeted ways,” CRS said.

These and other considerations will likely be the subject of significant debate when the House takes up the MORE Act next week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced on Friday that the bill will be taken on the floor as soon as Wednesday.

He had previously said this summer that the chamber would vote on the legislation in September, but that plan was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democrats who worried about the optics of advancing cannabis reform before passing another coronavirus relief package.

The bill cleared Nadler’s more than a year ago and has been awaiting floor action since.

Even if the far-reaching reform does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit, at least during this Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

Even so, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act, but she’s indicated she will not necessarily proactively push the former vice president to evolve further on cannabis reform.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

CRS, in its new report, also discussed broader drug policy reform efforts taking place at the state level and locally, such as Oregon’s recent vote to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs. The agency noted moves to decriminalize psychedelics specifically in Washington, D.C., too.

These “current trends suggest that there may be a broader movement toward decriminalizing controlled substances,” CRS said. “Comprehensively addressing such changes is outside the scope of the MORE Act, but Congress may wish to monitor developments in this area when considering future legislation.”

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Federal Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Get A Congressional Vote Next Week, Leader Announces

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A bill to federally legalize marijuana will receive a full floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next week, a top Democratic leader in the chamber announced on Friday.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said the chamber will take up the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act some time between Wednesday and Friday. The floor schedule announcement comes weeks after the leader first confirmed that the House would advance the proposal before the year’s end.

Early in the week, the bill is first expected to go before the House Rules Committee, which prepares legislation for floor action and decides which amendments can be made in order for consideration by the full body.

Hoyer previously said that the chamber would vote on the legislation in September, but that plan was postponed following pushback from certain centrist Democrats who worried about the optics of advancing cannabis reform before passing another coronavirus relief package. Several moderates ended up losing their reelection races this month on the same dat that voters in several red states approved legalization measures, however, raising questions about their strategic thinking on the politics of marijuana.

“I’ve been working on this issue longer than any politician in America and can confidently say that the MORE Act is the most comprehensive federal cannabis reform legislation in U.S. history,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a press release. “Our vote to pass it next week will come after people in five very different states reaffirmed the strong bipartisan support to reform the failed cannabis prohibition. National support for federal cannabis legalization is at an all-time high and almost 99 percent of Americans will soon live in states with some form of legal cannabis.”

“Congress must capitalize on this momentum and do our part to end the failed policy of prohibition that has resulted in a long and shameful period of selective enforcement against communities of color,” he said.

The House approving the bill during the presidential transition could also raise the pressure on President-elect Joe Biden to embrace legalization—a policy he’s declined to adopt despite supermajority support among Democratic voters.

As currently written, the MORE Act, whose lead sponsor is Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would federally deschedule cannabis, expunge the records of those with prior marijuana convictions and impose a federal five percent tax on sales, revenue from which would be reinvested in communities most impacted by the drug war.

The legislation would also create a pathway for resentencing for those incarcerated for marijuana offenses, as well as protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearances due to its use.

All of those provisions are subject to change through amendments over the coming week.

“This floor vote represents the first congressional roll call ever on the question of ending federal marijuana criminalization,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment. “By advancing the MORE Act, the House of Representatives sends an unmistakable signal that America is ready to close the book marijuana prohibition and end the senseless oppression and fear that this failed policy wreaks on otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

“Americans are ready to responsibly legalize and regulate marijuana, and this vote shows some lawmakers are finally listening,” he said.

The bill cleared Nadler’s more than a year ago and has been awaiting floor action since.

Even if the far-reaching reform does pass in the Democratic-controlled chamber, as it’s expected to with some bipartisan support, it remains unlikely that the Senate will follow suit, at least during this Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is a champion of the hemp industry but staunchly opposes further marijuana reform.

Even so, a symbolic vote for legalization could send a strong signal to the incoming Biden administration. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris (D-CA) is the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act, but she’s indicated she will not necessarily proactively push the former vice president to evolve further on cannabis reform.

Given Biden’s former approach to championing punitive anti-drug legislation as a senator and his ongoing obstinance on marijuana legalization at a time when polls show that a clear majority of Americans favor the policy change, there remains some skepticism about his willingness to make good on his campaign promises to achieve more modest reforms he has endorsed, such as decriminalizing possession and expunging records.

A transition document the incoming Biden-Harris administration released this month left out mention of those cannabis pledges.

That said, the president-elect has conceded that his work on punitive anti-drug legislation during his time in Congress was a “mistake.”

For what it’s worth, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Marijuana Moment in August that “the Biden administration and a Biden Department of Justice would be a constructive player” in advancing legalization.

Marijuana Legalization Opponents Ask Courts To Overturn Voters’ Will In Several States

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Two-Track Effort To Allow Psychedelic Mushrooms In Washington State Launches Amid Broader Drug Decrim Push

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Drug reform advocates won big in Oregon this year, with separate ballot measures to decriminalize possession of all drugs and legalize psychedelic mushrooms for therapeutic use passing on Election Day. Now organizers are setting their sights on similar reforms next door in Washington State with two newly announced efforts.

One seeks to utilize existing administrative mechanisms to expand access to psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic use by patients in end-of-life care. The other, a proposed ballot initiative on track for 2022, would put Washington on par with Oregon, decriminalizing small-scale possession of all drugs and legalizing mushrooms for broader therapeutic use.

These efforts come after advocates already announced a separate plan to lobby lawmakers to pass a bill decriminalizing all drugs in 2021.

A healthcare professional is behind the first new psilocybin push via the administrative route. Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Seattle physician who specializes in end-of-life care, is hoping to win permission from state and federal regulators to cultivate psilocybin mushrooms and use them to treat patients.

“We know that it’s a naturally occurring substance that we can cultivate safely, we know how to dose it, and there’s really good reason to believe it can help,” Aggarwal said of psilocybin, the main active ingredient in entheogenic mushrooms.

Aggarwal and his clinic, the Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute, hope to secure legal access to psilocybin for end-of-life patients under state and federal laws that allow patients with terminal diseases to try investigational medications that haven’t been generally approved.

In 2018, President Donald Trump signed the federal “Right to Try Act,” which would give certain patients access to drugs that have not yet been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for broad use. Psilocybin, along with marijuana and MDMA, appears to fit the criteria for the law, including having completed a phase 1 clinical trial and being under active development. Washington State adopted a similar law in 2017.

In September, Aggarwal applied to the Washington State Department of Health’s Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission for a license to grow psilocybin mushrooms with the eventual goal of using them to treat patients in palliative care. The state commission has yet to review the application, Kaiser Health News reported this week.

Aggarwal would also need to obtain approval from the federal government, namely the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “We’re still working on formulating an application to them,” he told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview, adding that his team is consulting with lawyers for guidance.

As for a timeline on the applications? “I wish I could tell you,” Aggarwal said. “There’s really no way to know. This has never been tried before that we’re aware of.”

Meanwhile, more sweeping statewide reform could come in the form of a 2022 ballot question. A top backer of both of Oregon’s successful drug-reform initiatives recently said Washington is the next state on his list.

David Bronner, CEO of Dr. Bronner’s soap company, has long bankrolled drug reform campaigns. In Oregon last election, he gave $3.4 million to Measure 109, which legalized psilocybin for therapeutic use, and $1 million to Measure 110, which decriminalized all drugs.

Bronner recently told the Daily Beast that he’d like to see Washington voters pass both reforms—medical psilocybin and broader drug decriminalization—in a single initiative on the state’s 2022 ballot.

“It’s moving faster than I would’ve thought,” he said. “I would not have thought we’d be ready for the kind of reforms we’re seeing, and it’s gratifying. I just think we can go further in 2022 and 2024.”

Bronner added that he hopes to team up with other drug-reform funders, such as Mark Zuckerberg and George Soros, to maximize their policy impact. “If we all line up as one grand coalition, we can run twice as many ballot measures in a given cycle,” he told the Daily Beast. “We’re working hard on figuring that out.”

In the meantime, another group of activists in the state are continuing their push for drug decriminalization. Treatment First Washington hopes to see lawmakers take up a proposed decriminalization measure next year that closely resembles Oregon’s Measure 110.

The group originally planned to qualify the Washington measure for the 2020 election, but organizers stopped collecting signatures in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with Oregon’s recently passed decriminalization measure, Treatment First Washington’s proposal would remove criminal penalties for drug possession, expand treatment for substance misuse and pay for that treatment with tax revenue from the state’s legal cannabis industry.

Aggarwal, the Seattle doctor applying to cultivate mushrooms, said that any of the reform efforts would likely help expand access for his patients.

“This effort would definitely be a lot easier if we had decriminalization,” he said, explaining that treatment could work similarly to how the clinic currently deals with marijuana.

“We kind of do this with cannabis in our office already,” he said. “People can do cannabis-assisted therapy sessions where they bring their own, and there’s a vaporizer and they can have a session with a decriminalized drug.”

Aggarwal said he filed the application because dying patients can’t wait for broader reform through the legislature or the ballot box.

“We just don’t have time to wait for that for patients who are sick now,” he said. “These are patients that really have exhausted legally available psychedelic-assisted therapy, which is ketamine, and I think there’s still a need for more… They need help now and not in 2022.”

Marijuana Legalization Opponents Ask Courts To Overturn Voters’ Will In Several States

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