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South Dakota Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure In November



South Dakota officials on Wednesday certified that activists turned in a sufficient number of signatures earlier this month to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the November ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) needed 16,961 valid submissions to place their initiative before voters. Now, the secretary of state’s office has confirmed that more than enough valid petitions were received and that the proposal will appear on the November ballot as Initiated Measure 27.

Matthew Schweich, campaign director of SDBML, told Marijuana Moment that he is “very happy” that voters will get a chance to decide on the reform.

“We are extremely thankful to all the people who signed our petitions and all of our incredible volunteers who helped make this happen,” he said.

“As required by South Dakota Codified Law § 2-1-16, our office conducted a random sample of the petition signatures and found 79.22 percent to be valid,” stated Secretary Of State Steve Barnett said in a press release. “Based on the results of the random sample, 25,023 signatures were deemed valid.”

South Dakota voters already approved legalization during the 2020 election, but the reform was struck down by the state Supreme Court following a challenge supported by the governor’s office.

Schweich said that he expects voters to approve legalization again but that “we cannot be complacent and we must run a very strong campaign” in order to ensure another victory.

“But I am confident that we can win again and I believe that we will exceed the 54 percent that achieved in 2020,” he said. “Our goal is wot win by more than we did in 2020.”

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 pan out this session. The House rejected a Senate-passed legalization bill in March, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.

Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative would accomplish if approved by voters: 

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to three plants for personal use.

It also lays out civil penalties for violating provisions related to issues such as public consumption or growing more plants than permitted.

Employers would specifically be allowed to continue enforcing workplace drug policy prohibiting cannabis use by workers.

State and local governments could continue to ban marijuana activities made legal under the initiative in buildings “owned, leased, or occupied” by a governmental body.

The measure does not touch on regulatory policies concerning taxing cannabis sales, licensing or equity.

SDBML’s 2020 success at the ballot was overruled by the state Supreme Court as a result of a legal challenge funded by Gov. Kristi Noem’s (R) administration. The court ruled that the measure violated a single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Prior to the general election, the campaign will be focusing efforts on defeating a separate constitutional initiative, Amendment C, that would require at least 60 percent of voters to approve a ballot measure, instead of a simple majority. The proposal was placed on the state’s June 7 primary ballot by an act of the legislature.

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 Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 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.

Even if the legislature had enacted the bill,  however, the governor would have likely posed a threat. She declined to rule out vetoing the legalization legislation on the day it passed the Senate in February. She also confusingly questioned voter support for the reform despite the fact that they approved it at the polls two years ago.

Noem’s office also recently suggested that the activists behind that voter-approved initiative should pay the administration’s legal fees of the lawsuit that invalidated the will of voters—a proposal that the campaign called “ridiculous.”

While a recent poll found that most South Dakota voters approve of Noem’s job performance overall, just 39 percent approve of her handling of marijuana legalization, with 51 percent disapproving. The governor is up for reelection this year.

Noem has consistently faced criticism from advocates and stakeholders over her early opposition to cannabis reform.

She released an ad ahead of last year’s election urging residents to vote against the legalization initiative that ultimately passed, 54-46 percent.

More recently, however, the governor seems to be trying to associate herself with the implementation of a separate medical cannabis legalization initiative that voters also overwhelmingly approved in 2020, despite having opposed the proposal in the run-up to the election.

After regulators approved rules for the medical marijuana program in September, Noem said her administration “is fully on board to make certain South Dakota continues to implement the most responsible, patient-focused medical cannabis program in the country.”

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.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.


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