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South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Marijuana Legalization Bill

South Dakota's new medical marijuana law only passed last year. But it could be replaced with adult-use legalization

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South Dakota’s new medical marijuana law was approved by voters just last year, reports the Argus Leader. But that law could be scrapped and replaced with what’s being called a “compromise” that would legalize Cannabis use for all adults.

A legislative panel on Tuesday moved forward on legalizing Cannabis for all purposes for adults 21 and older in South Dakota, reports KELO. The bill bans public consumption and eliminates criminal charges for adult possession of any amount up to 4 ounces.

The plan would replace the state’s current medical marijuana law for adults. But it keeps the current medical Cannabis program in place for people younger than 21.

Bill Could Be Introduced In January

The 8-2 recommendation came from the Legislature’s subcommittee on adult-use marijuana.

The next step is for the full marijuana study committee to decide whether the proposed bill should proceed. Then the bill would need approval from the Legislature’s Executive Board.

Those clearances must happen for the legislation to get introduced in the 2022 session. The bill would then go through the standard process of committee action. It could possibly receive votes in the 70-member House of Representatives and the 35-member Senate.

‘It’s About As Close As We’re Going To Get’

“It’s about as close as we’re going to get to get something passed out of the committee,” said Rep. Hugh Bartels, a Watertown Republican. Barrels chairs the Adult-Use Marijuana Subcommittee.

Bartels’ bill is a compromise between the factions that oppose and support marijuana legalization. It would overhaul Cannabis policies in South Dakota and for all practical purposes repeal the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law that took effect July 1.

The Adult-Use Marijuana Study Subcommittee has been studying the issue since June. It voted to recommend a bill that would allow people 21+ to purchase up to 1 ounce of Cannabis for adult use.

It would repeal most aspects of the medical marijuana law that voters passed last year. But it would still contain provisions for people under 21 to use Cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The idea behind repealing the medical marijuana law, Bartels said, is that legalized marijuana lessens the necessity for a medical program. But to ensure youth with medical need for Cannabis can still have access to it, the state would continue to issue them medical cards.

“You wouldn’t need a medical card if you’re over 21,” Bartels said. He added smokeaable forms of Cannabis would be illegal for minors to possess or consume under his bill.

‘Do We Want To Go Against The Will Of The People?’

Lawmakers’ advancing the bill showed something important.

That is, there’s growing acknowledgment in the Republican-controlled Legislature that adult-use Cannabis has popular support.

“Do we want to step forward and regulate it and put forward a good plan?” Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin asked the committee. “Or do we want to go against the will of the people who voted in the last election?”

Court Reviews Legalization Measure Already Passed By Voters

All this comes as the South Dakota Supreme Court continues a review of the constitutionality of an earlier cannabis legalization initiative that voters approved in 2020.

A lawsuit funded by the administration of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem challenged the measure, reports Marijuana Moment.

South Dakota voters chose 54-46% last November to approve Amendment A, legalizing adult-use Cannabis. Governor Noem opposed its passage and fought it in court after the election.

‘Governor Noem Is Not Supportive Of Legalizing Recreational Marijuana’

A reporter asked Noem’s office for a response Tuesday from the governor regarding the subcommittee’s decision. “You are correct that Governor Noem is not supportive of legalizing recreational marijuana,” replied spokesman Ian Fury.

Overriding a governor’s veto would require a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers.

Bartels said lawmakers found themselves in a difficult spot. This happened partly because of the governor’s anti-marijuana stance. And Amendment A also took the unusual step of making the Cannabis law changes part of the South Dakota Constitution, rather than state law.

Legislators in South Dakota can change state laws but they can’t change the state constitution.

South Dakota Activists Launch Signature Drive

At the same time, activists have launched a signature drive to put more legalization initiatives on the state’s 2022 ballot. They’ve received clearance from the secretary of state’s office.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws doesn’t like lawmaker’s plan for an alternative legalization proposal before the legislature next year. The group said it will proceed with plans to turn in petitions next month to put the marijuana issue back before voters in 2022.

They need a minimum of 16,961 valid signatures from South Dakota registered voters. The group must file the petitions with the South Dakota Secretary of State no later than 5 p.m. CT on November 8.