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South Dakota Marijuana Activists Turn In Signatures To Put Legalization On The November Ballot



South Dakota activists have officially turned in what they believe will be more than enough valid signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s ballot for the third time this November.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) delivered 29,030 signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday’s turn-in deadline. They need 17,508 of those to be verified in order to make the ballot.

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 now they’ll wait for final confirmation from the state.

“Today is the culmination of seven months of hard work by advocates and volunteers across South Dakota,” Matthew Schweich, executive director of SDBML, said in a press release. “We are very confident that we have collected enough signatures from registered voters to qualify for this November’s 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.

“Things all seem to be moving in the right direction for South Dakota to finally win the freedom they voted for a few years ago,” Deb Peters, president of the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota, said. “At the federal level, things are moving towards a responsible rescheduling and dozens of states are seeing the tax benefits of recreational cannabis legalization. It’s inspiring to see this industry come together and work so hard. We’re looking forward to Election Day.”

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.

The initiative would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. They could also grow up to six plants per person for personal use, which is up from three plants in the last version. There’s also a 12-plant maximum per shared living household—double the prior six-plant limit.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Democratic Congressman Lays Out New Marijuana Agenda To Reflect Renewed ‘Optimism’ Amid Rescheduling Move

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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