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South Dakota Marijuana Activists ‘Extremely Confident’ They’ll Turn In Enough Signatures To Put Legalization Initiative On Ballot This Week



South Dakota activists are “extremely confident” they’ve collected more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the state’s November ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) will deliver the signatures to the secretary of state’s office on the turn-in deadline on Tuesday, the campaign announced on Monday.

For months it’s been unclear if the grassroots efforts would be able reach the signature threshold for ballot placement, as national industry and philanthropic financial support has been negligible this cycle. But the campaign pushed forward and, its leaders are predicting, prevailed.

Matthew Schweich, executive director of SDBML, told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the campaign is “extremely confident that we have enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.” That confidence is based on a “rigorous” internal validation system they’ve employed in the lead-up to the submission.

This marks the campaign’s third attempt to get the reform enacted at the ballot.

Voters did approve a legalization initiative in 2020, but it later was invalidated by the state Supreme Court over single-subject concerns. The campaign’s second initiative in 2022 was rejected by voters. A separate medical cannabis initiative that was also approved by voters in 2020 was not challenged and remains state law.

Part of what made this latest legalization push different is the fact that “every penny of the budget for the signature drive came from within South Dakota, with almost all of it coming from members of the medical cannabis community,” Schweich said.

“It tells me that almost every member of the medical cannabis industry in South Dakota recognizes that now’s the time to move forward recreational legalization,” he said. “They understand that waiting until 2026 is a bad idea.”

“We’re certainly going to need to explain to voters that this is a separate initiative,” Schweich said. “I think that of all the states that have passed recreational legalization, there’s no state with a more interesting or turbulent or complicated path.”

Asked about the possibility of an opposition campaign from Gov. Kristi Noem (R), the controversial governor who’s made headlines this past week after disclosing that she fatally shot her 14-month-old puppy that she claimed posed a safety risk, Schweich said: “Bring it on.”

“She’s welcome to come fight us,” he said. “We’re not afraid of the governor.”

In December, the secretary of state’s office approved a circulator handout submitted by SDBML, a requirement that has allowed the campaign to deploy paid canvassers to gather signatures along with its grassroots network of volunteers who have been distributing petitions.

The campaign material simply features the state attorney general’s title and explanation of the ballot measure, which was finalized in August.

If activists do secure ballot placement this year, they will still need to win over voters who rejected legalization in the last election.

Ahead of that election, a poll found that 51 percent of South Dakotans planned to vote against the legalization measure, while 40 percent said they’d be supporting it and 10 percent remained undecided. That was the third poll in a row showing the legalization measure behind.

Meanwhile, a separate proposed 2024 legalization ballot measure, sponsored by Rapid City resident Emmett Reistroffer, also received its final ballot explanation from the state attorney general. That initiative would legalize adult-use possession and cultivation of cannabis, while allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to serve adult consumers. That said, the chief backer of the proposal said he had no plans to collect signatures or campaign for the change.

Separately, opponents of legalization filed two other proposed ballot measures to tighten drug laws in the state. One would repeal the state’s medical marijuana law, while the other would keep federally banned substances from ever being legalized by voters.

The state attorney general finalized the ballot explanation for the medical marijuana repeal measure last August. But SDBML has said the initiative should be thrown out due to an alleged error in how the proposal was filed, failing to include a full list of the state statutes it would seek to undo.

After voters approved medical cannabis legalization in 2020, the governor tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation for an additional year. But while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, dealing a defeat to the governor.

In response, Noem’s office started exploring a compromise, with one proposal that came out of her administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.

In the 2022 legislative session, the House rejected a legalization bill that the Senate had passed, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.

A Marijuana Interim Study Committee, headed by legislative leaders, was established to explore cannabis policy reform, and the panel in November 2021 recommended that the legislature take up legalization. The House-defeated legislation was one of the direct products of that recommendation.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The governor separately signed a bill into law in February that will require patients to check off a box on medical marijuana card applications affirming that they’re aware that federal law prohibits cannabis consumers from buying and possessing firearms.

Currently more than 11,500 people in South Dakota hold medical marijuana cards—nearly double the 6,000 cardholders that state officials expected to enroll in the program by 2024.

Massachusetts Joint Committee Urges Lawmakers Not To Pass Psychedelics Legalization Initiative, Teeing Up Final Push For Ballot Placement

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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