South Dakota voters rejected a ballot measure to legalize marijuana on Tuesday.
Voters in the state had passed an earlier 2020 reform measure, but it was ultimately overturned by the courts.
Even though polling had consistently indicated that support was seriously lagging for the revised initiative, which would have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) maintained all along that it remained confident in the measure’s prospects.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative would have accomplished:
The measure would have allowed adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. They could have also grown up to three plants for personal use.
The text laid out civil penalties for violating provisions related to issues such as public consumption or growing more plants than permitted.
Employers would specifically have been allowed to continue enforcing workplace drug policy prohibiting cannabis use by workers.
State and local governments could have continued to ban marijuana activities made legal under the initiative in buildings “owned, leased, or occupied” by a governmental body.
The measure did not touch on regulatory policies concerning taxing cannabis sales, licensing or equity.
A poll released late last month 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.
SDBML Director Matthew Schweich, who also serves as deputy director of the national Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that the state campaign had felt largely ignored by national cannabis businesses who’ve put their lobbying focus into Congress with currently little to show for it.
SDBML also recently launched a new ad that reminds South Dakotans about how a lawsuit led by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) ultimately caused the state Supreme Court to invalidate a 2020 legalization measure that voters approved. The court sided with the administration that the prior initiative violated the single-subject ballot rule.
Meanwhile, opponents also released an ad that aimed to stoke fears about the impact of legalization on children, starting with a narrator showing video of kids and saying “these are future drug addicts, future suicide victims, future victims of an impaired driver.”
The legalization campaign separately conducted a 10-day statewide tour to register voters and educate the electorate about the initiative.
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Activists had cleared an initial major hurdle by submitting enough valid signatures to qualify the marijuana measure for the November ballot. They turned in nearly 20,000, and the secretary of state’s office confirmed in May that they met the required 16,961 signatures for ballot placement.
To avoid the single-subject problem that led to the 2020 initiative’s invalidation in court, the 2022 measure omits the previous version’s provisions that dealt with taxes and regulations, leaving those decisions up to the legislature.
While the governor has more recently worked to align herself with the state’s medical cannabis program that was also approved by voters in 2020, despite previously opposing it an the complementary recreational measure, she said in August that she was committed to fulfilling her job and seeing through the implementation of adult-use legalization if voters ended up approving it this year.
She said that the 2022 measure “is written more appropriately towards the Constitution,” signaling that she would not subject it to another legal challenge.
But the idea that Noem—who vetoed a modest hemp reform bill in 2019 and actively urged voters to oppose the adult-use measure in TV ads the following year—is now content to implement legalization if voters approve it has raised some eyebrows.
House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D), the Democratic nominee who challenged the governor this year, has also taken Noem to task over her prior efforts to overturn voter-approved legalization, releasing ads in August that remind voters of the interference.
A poll released in December 2021 found that most South Dakota voters approved of Noem’s job performance overall, but just 39 percent supported her handling of marijuana legalization, with 51 percent disapproving.
Noem tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for an additional year, but while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, delivering a defeat to the governor.
In response, her office started exploring a compromise last year, 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.
Following the court ruling that invalidated the earlier ballot box win, activists decided to take a two-track approach to the policy change in 2022, both working with legislators for a legislative reform while separately collecting signatures for the ballot initiative if lawmakers failed to act.
While they would have preferred lawmakers to enact the policy change, that did not materialize this session. The House rejected a Senate-passed legalization bill in March, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.
A Marijuana Interim Study Committee, headed by legislative leaders, was established last year to explore cannabis policy reform, and the panel ultimately recommended that the legislature take up legalization this session. The House-defeated legislation was one of the direct products of that recommendation.
Marijuana and psychedelics initiatives are also on the ballot in Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota on Tuesday.