Connect with us


South Dakota Marijuana Campaign Crosses Halfway Mark For Signatures To Put Legalization On November Ballot



South Dakota activists say they’ve crossed the halfway point for signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot.

With a turn-in deadline coming up on May 7, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) said in an email blast to supporters on Friday that it is gearing up for a final push. That involved setting up drive-thru signature collecting stations in several cities over the weekend.

So far, the campaign says it has about 12,500 signatures on hand. Matthew Schweich, executive director of SDBML, stressed that “every signature is crucial to ensuring South Dakotans have another opportunity to vote on cannabis legalization in November!”

Schweich told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the campaign is making “good progress.”

“We’ve got a ways to go and definitely feel the pressure as you always do during a signature drive, but I see a path to qualification,” he said. “We have strong volunteer effort through our partners, including many of the medical cannabis businesses here, so it’s a team effort.”

As he alluded to in the email blast, if the petitioning effort is successful this wouldn’t be the first time that South Dakotans have had a chance to decide on cannabis legalization. This is the 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.

Schweich told KELO that he partly attributed the defeat of the recreational legalization measure last cycle to confusion among voters who might have questioned why they were asking to weigh in on the issue once again.

“The populace support is definitely there. We’ve been hearing from lots of voters all over the state volunteers and it’s going really well,” he said. “The issue we’re encountering is that there’s a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to our ongoing signature drive. Many people think that they’ve signed this petition, but in fact, they signed a petition either in 2022 or even 2020.”

To that end, the campaign recently launched an online tool that allows voters to verify whether they’ve signed the current petition.

There’s was initially some uncertainty around whether SDBML would be able to secure sufficient resources to justify pursuing the ballot again, but Schweich told Marijuana Moment that, despite a lack of national industry or philanthropic support, the campaign decided to move ahead.

“I had cautioned against doing a campaign unless we could fully fund it all the way through to election day. And over time, I was convinced to at least start a signature drive with volunteers and create the option,” Schweich said. “Since then, I’ve listened to a lot of the operators in South Dakota—people who’ve taken risks to start medical cannabis businesses—and they’re saying we can’t afford to wait two or four more years.”

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 has no plans to collect signatures or campaign for the change.

Separately, opponents of legalization have 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, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) 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.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota Senate passed a bill last month that would ban delta-8 THC and other intoxicating hemp products. The chamber also approved legislation to add restrictions for people on parole or probation seeking to become medical cannabis patients.

The governor separately signed a bill into law last month 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.

House GOP Committee Urges Opposition To Marijuana Banking Bill, Saying ‘Gateway Drug’ Causes ‘Violence, Depression And Suicide’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
Become a patron at Patreon!

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Get our daily newsletter.

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox


Get our daily newsletter.