South Dakota Voters Made ‘Wrong Choice’ On Marijuana Legalization, Governor Says As Lawmakers Weigh Challenges

South Dakota voters spoke decisively when they legalized both medical and recreational marijuana during Tuesday’s election. But the state’s governor says that was the “wrong choice,” and a top lawmaker is voicing concerns about implementing the adult-use program, which is now protected in the state Constitution.

“I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities,” Gov. Kristi Noem (R), told The Argus Leader. “We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Steven Haugaard (R) said on Wednesday that the broader legalization initiative contains a number of provisions that will have to be addressed legislatively.

“You really need to figure out if a constitutional amendment is sufficient in itself to clarify some of those issues,” he said. “I suspect we are going to have some challenges to that because it is so long.”

“Even in our legislature, when we pass a bill that’s a paragraph, we spend a lot of time arguing about the wording and then we might come back and in following years and address that, this though is a constitutional amendment so it’s a little more difficult to do that,” the speaker said in an interview with KELO-TV.

“It’s going to be a challenge to try to figure out how do you weave this together with current law—both state and federal—so there are a lot of things that it addresses,” he said.

The speaker didn’t seem to express the same concerns about the statutory medical marijuana initiative that passed. Under the measure, patients suffering from debilitating conditions will be allowed to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary. The state Department of Health has until October 29, 2021 to enact regulations for the program and then must issue patient registration cards by November 18.

The constitutional amendment for adult-use cannabis will make it so people 21 and older will be able to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana, and they will also be allowed to cultivate up to three cannabis plants. Upon formal passage, legalization will become the law on July 1, 2021. The Department of Revenue will be charged with developing licensing regulations by April 1, 2022.

So there will be time for lawmakers to review and adjust statutes before retail sales begin. But, because the protections are now enshrined in the state Constitution, there’s only so much tinkering that lawmakers will be able to do. Any legislation they pass giving direction to how regulators should run the program will have to comport with the language voters approved at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert (D) said that South Dakota has “a road map of other states and how they did it, and we can either choose to look at them and learn from them and see what works and make a plan that fits South Dakota or we can just negate the will of the people and say no we aren’t going to do this, and I would think that is a mistake.”

That said, he agreed that there are “lots of statutes on the books that are going to need change—the possession, ingestion as a felony,” he told the TV station. In order to implement the recreational initiative, the legislature will “need to change [state] statutes” on cannabis.

Another potential obstacle could come from the governor’s office.

Noem, who previously vetoed a hemp bill, was among the opponents of both reform proposals. In a video ad released last month, she urged constituents to reject the reform initiative, stating that it’s “not good for our kids” and won’t “improve our communities.”

Any legislation to make statutory changes to comport with the legalization measure will have to clear her desk.

This story has been updated to include comments from the governor on the marijuana initiatives.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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