South Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a draft bill to legalize adult-use marijuana. The action comes as activists work to collect signatures for a separate reform proposal that they hope to put before voters on next year’s ballot.
The Marijuana Interim Study Committee passed the legislation in a 14-10 vote. It must now go before the Executive Board before it is formally recommended to be taken up by the full legislature in 2022.
Last week, a subcommittee specifically tasked with looking into recreational legalization, chaired by Rep. Hugh Bartels (R), passed an earlier version of the bill. Members also agreed to put language related to marijuana taxes into separate legislation that the full panel passed on Wednesday in a 16-8 vote.
Separately, the full committee approved an amendment to the reform measure related to the state’s newly established medical cannabis program that voters passed and took effect in July. As drafted, the bill would have significantly undercut the program by making it so only those under 21 could qualify while steering adults toward the recreational market, but the panel agreed to scrap those provisions.
In the background of this latest vote, the state Supreme Court is continuing to consider a review of the constitutionality of an earlier cannabis legalization initiative that voters approved in 2020 but which was later challenged with a lawsuit funded by the administration of Gov. Kristi Noem (R).
Because of the ongoing uncertainties in the courts and legislature, advocates say they will continue to pursue their ballot initiative for next year.
“The legislature is not yet in session. We remain focused on our signature drive,” Matthew Schweich, director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), told Marijuana Moment. “After we submit our petitions, we will have plenty of time to plan and mobilize for the upcoming legislative session so that we can continue our work defending the will of the people, just as we did earlier this year when we defeated Governor Noem’s attempt to severely delay implementation of South Dakota’s medical cannabis law.”
Signatures on activists’ proposal are due to be submitted to the state next month.
Under the bill passed in committee, adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. The state Department of Revenue would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses.
Unlike the legalization initiatives that South Dakota voters approved last year, the subcommittee’s bill would not provide a home grow option for adult consumers, and an amendment to add personal cultivation rights was rejected by lawmakers on Wednesday. Marijuana cultivation for licensed commercial sales could only be grown indoors under an amendment that was adopted.
The panel approved a number of additional amendments concerning issues such as advertising, product restrictions and penalties for dispensaries that violate rules.
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The legislation is “an attempt of the committee to put something on the table to regulate adult-use marijuana,” Bartels said. “It’s a framework that the legislature can move forward with if it wants to in session. There’ll be several opportunities to read discuss this during session and decide whether it’s a worthy bill or not.”
The committee is also advancing separate legislation on changes to the state’s medical cannabis program.
For activists, meanwhile, there’s limited time to mobilize a ballot campaign to qualify for 2022. The campaign had initially put forward four proposed legalization initiatives in the event of a negative ruling by the court, but they’ve decided to pursue just one.
SDBML will have until this November 8 to collect at least 16,961 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the statutory measure for next November’s ballot. The campaign is seeking volunteers to boost the petitioning process.