South Dakota Activists Plan New Cannabis Legalization Bill


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Despite the failure of a recreational marijuana legalization measure to gain the approval of a majority of voters in last month’s midterm elections, activists in South Dakota are already planning for a new bid to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2024. 

The group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws has taken the first official step to launch a new cannabis legalization bid for 2024 by filing a draft of the proposed ballot initiative with the state’s Legislative Research Council, according to media reports. The move comes less than two months after a recreational pot legalization measure known as Initiated Measure 27 failed at the polls in the November elections, garnering just over 47% of ballots cast.

If it had been passed, Measure 27 would have legalized the possession and use of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia. The ballot initiative also would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Those living in a jurisdiction without a licensed marijuana retailer would have been allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants in a secure location at home.

Activists who campaigned for this year’s unsuccessful ballot proposal believe that the lower voter participation typical of midterm elections compared to those that include a race for U.S. president may have been a factor in the defeat of Measure 27.

“We think the only reason it lost is because of really low turnout… we are eager to restore the will of the people,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana laws, which also led the campaign to pass the 2022 cannabis legalization ballot measure.

The failure of Initiative 27 came despite a similar proposal gaining a solid majority of votes only two years earlier, when President Joseph Biden beat his predecessor Donald Trump at the polls. A 2020 ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis passed with 54% of the vote, but a legal challenge supported by Republican Governor Kristi Noem led to the state Supreme Court invalidating the measure on procedural grounds.

Cannabis Reform Opponents Also Preparing For 2024

Opponents of cannabis reform believe that the issue of recreational marijuana legalization has already been settled at the polls, despite the invalidated successful ballot measure only two years ago. Republican state Representative Fred Deutsch, who also serves as the treasurer for the cannabis prohibitionist group Protecting South Dakota Kids, is opposed to another bid to legalize marijuana in the 2024 elections.

“They brought it, and they brought it, and they brought it… they said we should respect the will of the voters throughout the campaign,” said Deutsch. “Well, apparently, they are not going to respect the will of the voters… and they are going to bring it back again.” 

Deutsch added that he intends to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session that would prohibit similar initiatives from being placed on the ballot in consecutive election cycles. Additionally, Protecting South Dakota Kids plans to create a nonprofit group with the same name and hire a lobbyist to work in the state capital full-time during the 2023 legislative session in order to counter the efforts of cannabis reform advocates.

“This last year in Pierre, the pro-marijuana lobbyists outgunned us five to one, six to one… I didn’t count them, but they were swarming the Capitol,” said Deutsch. “The marijuana industry puts a lot of money into hiring these guys, and we hope to push back just a little bit.”

Proponents of another attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis in South Dakota believe that the success of the measure is likely to hinge on the ability of activists to raise the money to mount an effective race in 2024. Media reports cite “lackluster fundraising” as a factor in this year’s loss.

“The biggest hurdle is making sure you can run a well-funded campaign, and it is too early to say whether we can or can’t,” said Schweich. “But we are going to try and move through the process and build up a network of people who can donate generously and make sure that we do have a well-funded campaign.”



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