It’s déjà vu all over again for the South Dakota cannabis legalization movement. Yesterday, May 3, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) turned in over 19,000 signatures to put recreational cannabis on the state ballot…again.
In a remarkable turn of events, South Dakota will be forced to re-do an entire legalization campaign, thanks to the state’s anti-pot—and anti-democratic—governor, Kristi Noem (R) and the state’s GOP-led Supreme Court.
In 2020, South Dakota passed legalization by a vote of 54-46 (and simultaneously passed medical marijuana by a margin of 70-30). But Governor Noem, a staunch prohibitionist, used state funds to facilitate a lawsuit against Amendment A, the legalization ballot measure. The state Supreme Court supported the lawsuit, and killed Amendment A in November on the absurd grounds that it covered several subjects, and not just one (GOP lawmakers and judges have used similar arguments against marijuana voter initiatives in Nebraska, Florida and Mississippi).
“Governor Noem is similar to most other politicians in South Dakota in that she does not think voters are capable of making their own decisions about matters of public policy,” campaign director Matt Schweich told Leafly. “In my opinion, she’s wrong.”
South Dakota legalization initiative details
South Dakota’s 2022 initiative differs greatly from 2020’s Amendment A. It does not include any language regarding the regulation, licensing, or taxation of an adult-use cannabis market. Instead, it emphasizes residents’ civil liberties: It legalizes personal possession, limited home cultivation, and reduces related criminal penalties.
“A lot of people were motivated to sign the  petition—not particularly because they support cannabis legalization—but by their belief in the ballot process,” Schweich said.
“One woman in Rapid City signed it. She looked me in the eye and said ‘I’m going to vote against this in November, but I just think it’s outrageous they overturned what voters passed,’” he added.
Schweich anticipates that the South Dakota Secretary of State, Steve Barnett (R), will officially sign off on the initiative in the next few weeks once his office counts and validates the signatures. Then, the campaign will officially begin.
“It won’t necessarily be easy to pass this initiative,” Schweich told Leafly. “We have to run a strong campaign.”
South Dakota Republicans’ plan to thwart legalization
Unfortunately, Noem’s war on pot is part of a larger anti-democratic trend in South Dakota. This June, residents will vote on a Republican-led constitutional initiative, Amendment C. If passed, it would require any citizen-led ballot measure or constitutional amendment to gain 60% of the vote to become law, instead of a simple majority.
Schweich noted that his campaign is similarly focused on defeating Amendment C, even if it doesn’t directly apply to the recreational cannabis initiative. “We’re going to fight that tooth and nail,” he said.
Furthermore, Schweich called out what he identified as the state Supreme Court’s recent decision to delay the details of their ruling against Amendment A, the 2020 initiative, until November 2022. Doing so complicated activists’ ability to effectively re-write their initiative. “Not only did [the state Supreme Court] wipe out what voters passed in 2020, but they interfered with 2022, too. They inflicted injustice on two separate elections,” Schweich said.
In the meantime, the state’s first medical dispensaries will likely open later this year. At least that’s something to celebrate.
Stay tuned for more information about the vote for legal cannabis in South Dakota. Learn more about South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws here.