There are two marijuana initiatives on the ballot in South Dakota this election season. Both would legalize medical and recreational marijuana within certain limits in the state. If passed, South Dakota would join 33 other states with medical marijuana laws on the books and 11, plus Washington DC, who have legalized recreational marijuana use since Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012.
In the unforeseen political climate of 2020, the move to legalize marijuana has become part of an overall examination of systemic racial and class bias.
“We’ve seen this complete evolution in thinking,” said Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit that supports legalization, who was quoted in the New York Times.
He compared ballot initiatives in New Jersey and South Dakota. “New Jersey is one of the bluest states in the nation and South Dakota is one of the reddest — and they both have ballot initiatives in November,” he said.
“What was once an argument centered mainly on the bottom-line benefits of taxing and regulating a product widely in use has been reframed as one with equity — and the disproportionate rates of arrest in minority neighborhoods — at its heart,” wrote Tracey Tully in the NY Times.
In South Dakota there are two initiatives. Amendment A is a constitutional amendment that, “legalizes the possession, use, transport, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia by people age 21 and older. Individuals may possess or distribute one ounce or less of marijuana. Marijuana plants and marijuana produced from those plants may also be possessed under certain circumstances,” according to the Secretary of State’s web site.
Amendment A mandates the creation of licensures and regulations for marijuana facilities and establishes a 15% tax on marijuana sales. Revenue from the tax will be split between South Dakota schools and the general fund. (Read the Attorney General’s summary of the proposed amendment here: sdsos.gov/elections-voting/assets/2020_CA_LegalizeMarijuana_Petition.pdf)
Measure 26 covers the legalized medical use of marijuana. The measure directs the Department of Health to establish patient registration, list qualifying conditions, and govern certification and possession. The measure also directs the South Dakota Department of Health to establish a system of licensures and regulations for cultivation, dispensaries, manufacturing and testing facilities. It covers packaging, labeling and privacy.
The Marijuana Policy Project advocates the changes to South Dakota Law to “to help veterans and others suffering from debilitating medical conditions,” and “to reduce the burden on police officers and allow law enforcement to focus more on serious public safety concerns.”
Opponents are concerned that voters don’t realize there are other ways to legalize medical marijuana without a constitutional amendment and without linking it to recreational marijuana, according to David Owen, Chairman of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, quoted in the Argus Leader in September.
Owen reported the results of a poll by the organization No Way On A and organized by the Chamber. The poll found that 60% of respondents planned to vote in favor of Amendment A and 70% approved of Measure 26. No Way On A opposes both ballot measures on the basis that legalized marijuana will increase use in children aged 12 an up, increase roadway accidents due to impaired driving, and cause a negative impact to businesses who refuse to hire workers who test positive for marijuana use.
Governor Noem vetoed the legalization of industrial hemp in the state and is opposed to further legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.
CRST Tribal Council approved and placed advertising in the West River Eagle to inform voters on the issues. The advertising mentions the pros and cons of the measures. Cons include similar concerns to those mentioned by No Way on A. Pros include the potential for increased tax revenue to the Tribe, job creation and reduced alcohol abuse.