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South Dakota Marijuana Legalization Initiative Trails In New Poll, As State Republican Party Opposes ‘Dangerous’ Proposal



As the South Dakota Republican Party formalizes its opposition to a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the November ballot, a new poll shows that a slim majority of voters are also against the proposed reform.

Weeks after state officials confirmed that the measure from South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) once again qualified for the ballot, South Dakota Republicans adopted a policy expressing “strong opposition” to the measure, and two Catholic dioceses similarly urged voters to reject the initiative.

The legalization campaign has dismissed the opposition, but a survey from the University of South Dakota’s Chiesman Center for Democracy that was released this week signals that activists have their work cut out of them to close the gap and secure majority support by Election Day.

The poll found that 52 percent of registered voters are against Initiated Measure 29, compared to 42 percent who are in favor and another six percent who are undecided. That opposition is consistent with the vote to reject an earlier legalization measure in 2022.

There’s a significant partisan divide on the issue, with 71.4 percent of Democrats backing the proposal, while just 24.4 percent of Republicans are supportive of the reform. Independents are more evenly split, with 50.8 percent in favor of the legalization initiative and 45.3 percent opposed.

“We believe the results from this poll are not an accurate representation of the level of support for cannabis legalization in South Dakota,” Matthew Schweich, executive director of SDBML, told Marijuana Moment on Friday.

The survey comes as the state Republican party is urging “all citizens of this great state to vote against this dangerous measure” as part of a resolution adopted last week, calling on “all party members and Republican organizations to lend whatever practical support they can to assist in the campaign to defeat” it.

“The resolution adopted by the South Dakota GOP is blatantly inaccurate—it’s classic prohibitionist propaganda,” Schweich said. “If legalization causes the problems described in the resolution, why has no state in modern times enacted a bill or approved a ballot measure to repeal cannabis legalization?”

Meanwhile, bishops with the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls put out a joint statement last week that also encourages voters to oppose the legalization measure, claiming there’s “abundant evidence that marijuana contributes to a host of problems that weaken the social fabric of society.”

For months leading up to the measure’s certification, it was unclear whether SDBML’s grassroots efforts would be able reach the signature threshold for ballot placement, as national industry and philanthropic financial support has been negligible this cycle.

Voters did approve an earlier 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.

“We wanted to give the people of South Dakota the opportunity to restore the legalization policy they approved in 2020,” Schweich said. “We had hoped the Amendment A ruling would inspire people to go vote who might not otherwise show up for midterm elections. Unfortunately, that was not the case.”

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.

Now the campaign’s mission is to win over voters who rejected legalization in the last election, while combating the messaging from opposition parties.

Ahead of the 2022 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, 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, Gov. Kristi Noem’s (D) 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 1,500 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.

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.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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