South Dakota Seeks Changes to Medical Rules

Finally, medical cannabis is legal in South Dakota, a state that legalized in 2020 before facing numerous hurdles in order to make medical pot official. And still, the state’s dispensaries haven’t started distributing it. The next step to make that happen is a change in regulations, which is currently in the works behind the scenes. 

In South Dakota, medical cannabis is overseen by The South Dakota Department of Health. They recently held a public hearing to go over proposed changes and how things could move forward in the state if approved. Despite the hearing taking place on June 21, there is still time to submit written comments on the changes. Comments will be accepted through July 1, either by email or snail mail. 

Once the final comments are received, the department will make a decision. The changes must first be analyzed by the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee, which will make a decision on those proposed changes at their July 19 meeting. 

These changes are separate from those already approved that take place on July 1, the Legislature’s code counsel, John McCullough, pointed out. The other changes referenced are those that were approved by Senate Bill 4 when it passed during the most recent legislative session.

These already approved changes include a major milestone for healthcare providers. According to this change, a physician no longer is required to state that the patient will be likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefits from medical cannabis in the case that it is prescribed. Instead, they only have to state that the patient has a debilitating medical condition, not that it is likely to be treated successfully by cannabis. This takes a lot of weight off of the physicians when it comes to new types of treatment like legal weed. 

Originally, under Measure 26, which was approved by voters in the 2020 election, when cannabis was legalized. The South Dakota State Medical Association opposed that wording, as it essentially forced prescribing doctors to say that cannabis would help, not just that it was an option. 

Currently, debilitating conditions approved to be treated with medical cannabis in South Dakota include: 

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Cancer associated with severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

To add other conditions, there is currently an application process to see if more qualified conditions will be approved in the future. These were all approved last year in September, and through a final hearing round in October of 2021. 

So far, there seems to be a big desire for medical cannabis in South Dakota based on how well a tribal dispensary is serving its community, and the fact that the state hit over 1,000 medical cards given out. The flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe currently operates a dispensary legally on their property, which is north of Sioux Falls. Their data shows that more than 10,000 people have registered with the tribe for medical cards since July 1 of last year. The state department of health reported 1,121 patient cards as of June 13. 

It remains to be seen exactly what changes will be requested by the community during the comment period, but it’s clear that the community is hungry and ready for legal cannabis in their state after a long wait since legalization. In the meantime, the community will be getting comments together to try and build a better medical cannabis community in South Dakota. 

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South Dakota Pot Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

The South Dakota Secretary of State announced on Wednesday that a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adults has received enough verified signatures to qualify for the November election, giving the state’s voters another chance to legalize recreational pot at the ballot box. Secretary of State Steve Barnett also announced that the proposal sponsored by the group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) will be titled Initiated Measure 27 for this year’s general election.

The Secretary of State’s office reported that the SDBML campaign had collected a total 31,588 signatures. An analysis of a random sample of the signatures determined that approximately 79.2% were validated as coming from South Dakota registered voters. Based on the results of the random sample, 25,023 signatures were deemed valid by state officials, far more than the 16,961 signatures currently required to qualify a measure for the ballot.

“We are very pleased that we’ve qualified for the ballot and we are extremely thankful to everyone who signed our petitions, our volunteers, our staff and our supporters,” SDBML director Matthew Schweich told the Argus Leader. “We look forward to being on the ballot in November and we’re confident we can win again and restore the will of the people of [S]outh Dakota.”

Under the proposal, adults aged 21 and older would be permitted to possess and buy up to one ounce of weed and grow up to three cannabis plants at home. Public consumption, cultivation of more than three plants, and some other cannabis-related activities would still be against the law, but violators would only face civil penalties for such offenses.

Successful 2020 Ballot Measure Struck Down in South Dakota

A more comprehensive ballot measure, Amendment A, was approved by 54% of South Dakota voters in 2020. But after legal challenges supported by Republican Governor Kristi Noem, an opponent of recreational cannabis legalization, the ballot measure was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Unlike Amendment A, Initiated Measure 27 does not attempt to establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and sales or levy a tax on the cannabis industry. Instead, this year’s ballot measure legalizes possession and purchases of cannabis and leaves the details up to state lawmakers. Activists hope that the more than 8,000 extra signatures collected will help dissuade opponents from filing new legal actions to stop legalization.

“One of the main reasons why we maintained such ambitious goals for our signature drive was to ensure that we had a healthy margin, so we could deter our opponents from filing a lawsuit,” Schweich said. “This was the plan to have this buffer and be sure there would be no more lawsuits over cannabis initiatives in South Dakota.”

But the effort to legalize recreational pot in South Dakota faces a new challenge from a proposal on the ballot for the primary election next month. Under Amendment C, future ballot measures would require 60% of the vote to pass if they enact a tax or require state appropriations of $10 million or more in any of the first five years of enactment. If Amendment C is passed by voters in the June primary election, it would go into effect before the November general election. The effect that would have on Initiated Measure 27 is unclear.

“We must defeat Amendment C on June 7,” Schweich said. “Amendment C is a shameful and cowardly attack on the constitutional ballot initiative rights of the people of South Dakota. This convoluted proposal, created by politicians in [the South Dakota capital of] Pierre, has the potential to cripple the initiative process and could even be used to undermine our 2022 cannabis legalization measure. We cannot allow politicians to get away with this.”

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South Dakota Medical Cannabis Recommendations Jump After Mass Registration Event

The number of patients registered to use medical cannabis in South Dakota has jumped in recent weeks following a mass registration event held in April.

South Dakota voters legalized the medicinal use of cannabis with the approval of a ballot measure in 2020 that passed with nearly 70% of the vote, and late last year the state Department of Health began accepting applications for medical cannabis identification cards for patients who had received a recommendation from their doctor. But after more than five months, the health department had issued fewer than 500 identification cards to eligible patients. Cannabis advocates with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws expected to see thousands of registered patients in that time.

“I think they’re going incredibly slow,” Melissa Mentele, the primary drafter of Initiated Measure 26, the 2020 ballot measure that legalized medical pot in South Dakota, told the Argus Leader.

South Dakota’s medical cannabis law requires patients with qualifying medical conditions to receive a recommendation to use weed medicinally from a physician licensed by the state. Doctors must meet with their patients in person to issue the recommendation, unlike many states that allow telephone or video consultations.

South Dakota Marijuana Spring Fling Certifies New Patients

To help those who can benefit from medical cannabis, a Michigan-based company organized a three-day event in April to connect doctors with potential medical patients. But Molefi Branson, the founder of MyMarijuanaCards.com, had difficulty finding local doctors to certify patients after sending out hundreds of inquiries to physicians across the state. Statewide, only 96 doctors had registered with the health department’s online portal, a required step to certify patients for South Dakota’s medical cannabis program.

“Despite being available since November, only a few South Dakota residents have been able to obtain a state-issued medical cannabis card due to the limited number of doctors authorized to certify patients in the state,” Branson said in a statement from the company.

As a service to patients, Branson’s company recruited doctors based in other states including Illinois and Missouri to obtain a license to practice medicine in South Dakota so they could write recommendations during a mass screening. Dubbed the Marijuana Spring Fling, the three-day event took place in downtown Sioux Falls from April 26 through April 28.

“The demand is so high and we had zero luck with any practitioners in South Dakota wanting to put their neck out for patients,” Branson said. “So we had to get them licensed here.”

Before the medical weed card registration event launched, the health department was issuing an average of two medical cannabis identification cards per day. As of April 26, the agency had approved only 419 cards since it began processing applications on November 8. In the less than three weeks since the Marijuana Spring Fling, the health department has issued an average of 16 medical cards per day, with the total number issued jumping more than half to 652, according to the most recent data available.

Major Healthcare Systems Wary of Medical Pot

Medical cannabis advocates say that the major healthcare systems in South Dakota, Sanford Health and Avera Health, have not supported the state’s medical weed program and have failed to provide information about the number of doctors who have been certified or how many recommendations they have written.

“These major health systems are creating such a barrier,” Mentele said. “Realistically, we should have 10 times that in the state of South Dakota.”

Both health care systems have publicly taken a neutral stance on medical cannabis, saying that they do not support or oppose its use. Issuing medical cannabis recommendations is at the discretion of doctors.

“It is up to each individual Sanford provider to determine the use of medical marijuana in regards to each patient’s individual care plan and what they feel is medically best for their patients,” said Dr. Joshua Crabtree, clinic vice president for Sanford Health’s Sioux Falls region.

The details of South Dakota’s medical cannabis program have also made some physicians wary to provide recommendations to use cannabis medicinally to their patients. Under the law, doctors who certify patients must attest that medical pot will have a therapeutic or palliative effect on the patient.

In March, the state legislature passed and Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill to amend the medical cannabis program. Under the change in law, doctors will only have to certify that the patient has one of the serious medical conditions that qualify a patient to use weed medicinally. Medical cannabis advocates and health care officials expect more patients to be approved for the program after the change in law goes into effect on July 1.

“We continue to evaluate the medical cannabis program in South Dakota and changes to the program, including some of the changes made during this last South Dakota Legislative Session,” Crabtree said.

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Fewer Than 450 Patients Certified in South Dakota Medical Cannabis Program

The fledgling medical cannabis program in South Dakota continues to build at a slow pace, with a local news report this week saying that only a little more than 400 patients have been certified since registration began at the end of last year.

That comes via the Argus Leader newspaper of Sioux Falls, which reported that, as of Tuesday, “the Department of Health had issued just 419 medical marijuana cards to patients.”

According to the newspaper, that has prompted MyMarijuanaCards.com, a nationally recognized telehealth company, to host the “the state’s first-ever, three-day mass patient screening event Tuesday in downtown Sioux Falls,” South Dakota’s largest city. The event runs through Thursday.

“Despite being available since November, only a few South Dakota residents have been able to obtain a state-issued medical cannabis card due to the limited number of doctors authorized to certify patients in the state,” MyMarijuanaCards.com founder Molefi Branson told the Argus Leader.

It isn’t just patients who have been slow to enroll. Last month, local television station KELO reported that “only 90 South Dakota doctors have been approved to validate the use of medical marijuana to their patients,” which accounts for “just 4.07% of the state’s 2,214 total active physicians.”

Branson said there are aspects of South Dakota’s medical cannabis registration process that may be causing the patient enrollee numbers to lag.

The Argus Leader reported that “Branson said South Dakota’s medical marijuana law requires South Dakotans receive certification from a medical professional licensed to practice medicine before they can be considered for a card through the [state Department of Health],” and that the state’s “law also requires screenings be in person, not over the telephone or via video conference, as allowed in several other states.”

The newspaper also noted a reluctance “among the healthcare systems in South Dakota to provide direction to their physicians about certifying patients, [which] has made certification a challenge for many, including a handful of the clients who attended the event Tuesday.”

It has been a turbulent year-and-a-half for cannabis reform efforts in the Mount Rushmore State. Voters there approved a pair of ballot measures in 2020—one that legalized recreational pot for adults, and another that authorized medical cannabis—but the ensuing 18 months have brought controversy with each.

The recreational cannabis law was struck down by the state Supreme Court last year following a legal challenge waged by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

The court concurred that the cannabis amendment violated the state’s constitution.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement following the November ruling. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

The medical cannabis law officially took effect last July, but there remains one dispensary in the state, located on a tribal reservation in Flandreau, South Dakota.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, which operates the dispensary, maintains that its medical cannabis cards should be treated as legally valid, but Noem’s administration has said that it would only recognize cards issued to members of the tribe.

In February, tribal officials said that more than 100 individuals who were issued medical cannabis cards have been arrested. The tribe said at the time that it has issued thousands of cards to tribal and non-tribal members alike.

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Petition Deadline Looms For South Dakota Legalization Campaign

The clock is ticking for a group of South Dakota activists to get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana, the group spearheading the effort to get the initiative on the ballot, said Wednesday that it is more than 3,000 signatures short of where it needs to be.

The deadline to submit the petition to the South Dakota Secretary of State is May 3.

“Our conservative estimate right now is that we’re at 13,500 valid signatures and we need 17,000 valid signatures,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told local television station KELO.

“We are a little nervous, we are within striking distance of getting enough valid signatures and qualifying for the ballot, but really don’t want to take any chances,” Schweich added.

The campaign is also an effort to avenge last year’s legal rulings that undid Amendment A, the constitutional amendment approved by a majority of South Dakota voters in 2020 that legalized recreational pot use for adults.

The state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, was vigorously opposed to the amendment from the start, and took the measure to court last year.

A circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying the amendment violated the state’s constitution.

In November, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling, saying Amendment A violated the constitution’s “one subject” requirement for amendments.

Noem, a possible 2024 GOP presidential candidate, celebrated the outcome.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement following the decision. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

South Dakota voters have not celebrated Noem’s approach to cannabis policy, however.

A poll late last year found that only 39% of voters in the Mount Rushmore State approve of her handling of cannabis legalization, while 17.8% said they somewhat disapprove, and 33.4% said they strongly disapprove.

Activists like Schweich hope those numbers––not to mention the passage of Amendment A in 2020––augur well for this November.

But the protracted and messy legal challenge that followed the previous legalization effort has apparently soured some South Dakota voters on the issue.

“South Dakota is sick of it, we’re all exhausted,” said Melissa Mentele, an activist involved in the legalization campaign, as quoted by KELO. “It’s not the issue people are exhausted with, they’re exhausted with the process of I vote, and it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s the biggest thing that we’re running into. It’s not, I already signed this, it’s, why should I sign this because it doesn’t matter,” Mentele added.

As reported by KELO, “Schweich says this signature drive is to put a statutory initiative on the ballot that is a very simplified, shortened version of Amendment A.”

“I would call it legalization for individuals,” Schweich said, as quoted by the station. “It makes it legal for an adult 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce, to cultivate up to three plants at home and it reduces three personal penalties related to how you grow it.”

Lawmakers in South Dakota attempted to get ahead of the ballot initiative by passing their own legalization bill in this year’s current legislative session, but the effort fizzled out.

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South Dakota Gov. Vetoes Bill To Scrub Pot Charges From Background Checks

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem kept up her anti-cannabis posture last week, vetoing a bill that would have removed old pot-related charges from criminal background checks.

The legislation, one of three bills that the first-term Republican vetoed on Friday, would have automatically removed certain cannabis charges from a defendant’s public record if at least five years had elapsed since the violation and “if all court-ordered conditions on the case have been satisfied and the defendant has not been convicted of any further offenses within those five years.”

In her veto letter, Noem said that the state’s “current laws and criminal procedures already provide sufficient avenues for people who have earned that second chance.”

“I believe in second chances…But those individuals must at least show good cause or a need for such relief, such as suspended imposition of sentence procedures, county youth diversion programs, or executive clemency that can be requested online at no cost,” Noem wrote in the letter.

Noem said that the retroactive nature of the bill “is bad precedent for criminal justice issues where fairness is paramount,” and that, even with the newly enacted medical cannabis law in South Dakota, “there must remain consequences for using illegal drugs at a time when the use and possession of marijuana, even for alleged medical purposes, was illegal.”

The bill passed both chambers of South Dakota’s Republican-dominated legislature, first clearing the state Senate last month by a vote of 19-16 before winning approval in the House of Representatives 38-31.

GOP state Sen. Mike Rohl, the sponsor of the bill, expressed his disappointment with Noem’s veto.

“This bill would have helped 30k+ people and could have had a positive economic impact of nearly $71 Million over just 2 years for the State. #ReeferMadness is alive & well,” Rohl tweeted on Friday.

But Rohl told the Argus Leader that the veto dims the bill’s prospects for this year. To override a governor’s veto, a bill needs the support of two-thirds in each chamber of the legislature.

“I’ll still pitch it, but I might not even be able to get it out of the Senate,” Rohl said. “And that’s disappointing because of the improvement that this would make in people’s lives.”

For Noem, who has shown little appetite for cannabis reform, the veto was hardly a surprise. In 2020, the state’s voters passed a pair of proposals at the ballot to legalize both medical cannabis and recreational pot use for adults.

But only the medical law remains, after Noem mounted a successful legal assault on the adult-use measure.

A pair of law enforcement officials brought a lawsuit on Noem’s behalf, arguing that the recreational pot amendment violated the state’s constitution. In February of last year, a circuit court judge in the state sided with Noem. Months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling, saying the measure violated the state constitution’s single subject requirement for amendments.

Noem, who vigorously opposed the legalization amendment throughout the 2020 campaign, celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling. But there are signs that Noem is out of step on the issue with both her fellow Republicans in the state legislature, who put forward a legalization bill in this year’s session, as well as voters, many of whom have voiced their disapproval with her handling of the issue.

Those voters may get a chance to defy the governor in November, with activists currently aiming to get another legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

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South Dakota Governor Signs Handful of Medical Cannabis Bills

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem last week signed a number of bills dealing with the state’s fledgling medical cannabis program that voters approved at the ballot in 2020.

Noem’s office said Friday that the first-term Republican had “signed six medical cannabis and hemp bills into law,” and that implementing those measures “will be part of Governor Noem’s focus on implementing a safe and responsible medical cannabis program that is the most patient-focused in the country.”

Perhaps most notably, one of the bills signed into law by Noem will place a limit on the number of cannabis plants a patient can grow at his or or her home at four––two of which “can be the state of growth at which they produce marijuana buds, while the other two plants cannot be beyond seedling stage,” according to the Argus Leader newspaper.

As the Associated Press noted, the “voter-passed law placed no maximum cap on the number of plants that may be grown in patients’ homes, but lawmakers moved this year to limit the number to four: two flowering and two non-flowering,” a compromise that came “after the Republican-controlled House proposed banning homegrown cannabis entirely, and Republicans in the Senate pushed a six-plant cap.”

Another bill signed by Noem, per the Argus Leader, “changes the medical marijuana law to allow nursing homes, treatment center and mental health centers to implement restrictions on cannabis use within their facilities” by protecting such facilities “from being forced to store and administer medical cannabis to clients and patients,” while another measure set to become law “adds language to the medical marijuana law that requires the health department provide written notice if they revoke a previously issued medical marijuana ID card.”

South Dakota lawmakers have spent much of this year’s legislative session debating the state’s approach to cannabis. Noem’s office said on Friday that, along with the six bills signed last week, the governor had “previously signed an additional 18 medical cannabis bills into law during the 2022 legislative session.”

Voters there approved a pair of proposals at the ballot in 2020 that legalized both medical and recreational pot use for adults. But Noem, after being vocally opposed to the recreational measure throughout the campaign, mounted a legal challenge against the adult-use program almost immediately.

A lower court in the state sided with Noem last February, saying that the recreational pot proposal was actually in violation of the state’s one subject requirement for constitutional amendments. In November, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling, an outcome that Noem celebrated.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

Activists in the state have launched a renewed effort to get a different recreational pot measure on this year’s ballot, an effort that prompted some South Dakota lawmakers to pass a legalization measure of their own this session. The legislation was passed by a single vote in the state Senate last month, but the proposal failed to attract enough support from lawmakers in the state House of Representatives.

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Bill To Legalize Pot Dies in South Dakota Legislature––For Now

A proposal in the South Dakota legislature to legalize recreational pot finally cleared one hurdle last week only to be stymied by another on Monday. 

But the legislation, Senate Bill 3, may not be completely dead just yet, much to the joy of advocates. 

The bill, which sought to uphold a ballot proposal that was passed by voters in 2020 but later nullified by the courts, was approved by a single vote in the South Dakota state Senate last week. But that momentum proved to be short-lived.

On Monday, members of the the House State Affairs Committee rejected the bill by a vote of 8-3, although according to local television station KELO, “rumors speculate it could be brought back to life on the House floor later in the week.”

The bill represents just the latest twist in what has become a years-long saga surrounding legalization in the Mount Rushmore State. 

In 2020, voters there passed a pair of measures at the ballot dealing with cannabis: Amendment A, a proposed change to the state constitution to legalize recreational pot for adults aged 21 and older, as well as hemp and medicinal cannabis; and Initiated Measure, which sought to legalize only medicinal cannabis. 

But Amendment A faced resistance from the state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, almost immediately after the ballots were counted.

Noem and a pair of law enforcement officials challenged the amendment in court and, in February of last year, a judge in South Dakota ruled in their favor. In November, a day before Thanksgiving, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling, saying that Amendment A violated the South Dakota Constitution’s “one subject” requirement. 

Supporters of Senate Bill 3 argued last week that the proposal represented a chance for lawmakers to effectively get ahead of voters on the issue, with advocates preparing to get a recreational pot proposal on the South Dakota ballot again this year.

“This is your opportunity to take control of the issue,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Senator David Wheeler, said last week. “This bill is your opportunity to do what the people said they wanted in Amendment A.”

“The train on marijuana is only moving in one direction nationwide,” he added. “It is better for us to get ahead of it.”

But the bill always faced an uphill climb in the state House, which, like the state Senate, is dominated by Republicans. 

“That hasn’t been very favorable in the House,” state House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said last week. “I would assume that’s going to have a decently tough path going forward.”

The legislative session is slated to wrap up next week, but the Associated Press reports that advocates of the legalization bill have “vowed to mount a last-ditch effort to resurrect the proposal on the House floor—a move called a smoke out that would require widespread support from House Republicans.”

The vote against Senate Bill 3 wasn’t the only action that the House committee took on cannabis this week. According to the Argus Leader newspaper, the committee also “advanced a separate measure that repeals portions of the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2020.”

The measure would eliminate language in the current medical cannabis law that “allows individuals without certification from the state’s Department of Health who are arrested for small amounts of cannabis to claim what’s known as an ‘affirmative defense’ in front of a judge,” the newspaper reported.

“In other words, marijuana possession charges can be dismissed by a court if a defendant can show they have conditions that qualify them for a medical marijuana card,” the Argus Leader said.

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South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Legalization Bill

A bill to legalize recreational pot for adults narrowly advanced in the South Dakota legislature last week, winning approval in the senate by just a single vote. The legislation would bring some redemption to advocates who have been in a tug-of-war battle with the state for the last two years to end prohibition and finally get legal sales in the state. 

In 2020, 54 percent of South Dakota voters approved Amendment A, which would have legalized recreational marijuana, in addition to hemp and medicinal cannabis, within the state. (That same year, an even larger majority of voters passed a separate ballot measure that legalized only medical marijuana.)

But it was doomed from that moment forward, with Republican Governor Kristi Noem mounting a legal challenge against the amendment.

In February of last year, a circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying that Amendment A violated the state’s constitution and could not become law.  

Months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling on the grounds that the amendment ran afoul of the constitution’s “one subject” requirement.

Undeterred, advocates said in the fall that they intended to put another legalization proposal on the 2022 ballot, which was an impetus for the GOP-controlled state Senate to forge ahead with its own measure. 

“This is your opportunity to take control of the issue,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Senator David Wheeler, as quoted by the Associated Press. “This bill is your opportunity to do what the people said they wanted in Amendment A.”

“The train on marijuana is only moving in one direction nationwide,” he added. “It is better for us to get ahead of it.”

The bill that passed the state Senate on Wednesday would allow adults age 21 and older to have up to an ounce of marijuana in their possession. Additionally on Wednesday, legislators in the chamber passed a number of bills “to set up retail licenses in the same way it licenses liquor establishments as well as automatically remove from background check records misdemeanors and petty offenses for pot ingestion or possession that are more than five years old,” according to the Associated Press.

Despite its passage in the state Senate, the bill still faces a long, difficult road to ultimate approval. 

Leaders in the state House of Representatives, where Republicans also have a big majority, have indicated that the legislation will face stiff opposition in their chamber.

“That hasn’t been very favorable in the House,” state House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said on Thursday, as quoted by local television station KELO. “I would assume that’s going to have a decently tough path going forward.”

And then there’s Noem, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate who has long been vocal in her opposition to recreational pot legalization. 

At a press conference on Wednesday, the governor didn’t say if she would veto the bill should it land on her desk, but reiterated that she is against recreational pot use.

“I haven’t seen anybody get smarter from smoking dope,” Noem said, as quoted by Dakota News Now.

A poll late last year found that a little more than half of South Dakota voters disapprove of Noem’s handling of cannabis legalization.

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Customers At South Dakota’s Only Medical Dispensary Still Getting Arrested

South Dakota only has one medical cannabis dispensary. To make matters worse, some customers there are still getting busted for pot.

That is according to the Argus Leader, which reported last week that “officials with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said that more than 100 people who’ve been issued tribal medical marijuana identification cards have been arrested since the tribe opened South Dakota’s first-ever cannabis store last year.”

The tribe opened the dispensary on July 1, 2021, when the new law officially took effect. No other dispensaries opened on that official start date, however, creating a gray area between the state and tribe.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and her administration has said that the state would not recognize medical cannabis cards issued to individuals who are not members of the tribe.

According to the Argus Leader, “the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has issued about 8,000 medical marijuana cards to tribal and non-tribal members,” and “although several county- and city-level law enforcement agencies and state’s attorneys have eased up on arrests and prosecutions for possession of small amounts of marijuana all together, others, like the Flandreau Police Department are not honoring some tribal-issued medical cards.”

“They’re taking the cards and handing out fines,” Tony Reider, chairman of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, told the newspaper. “But most we don’t know about, because most people are just paying the fines.”

The continued arrests typify what has been a fraught 15 months since South Dakota voters passed a pair of measures in the 2020 election to dramatically reform the state’s marijuana laws.

Voters there approved both a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot, as well as an initiated measure to allow medicinal cannabis.

But only the medical law still stands, with the South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in November that the recreational amendment was unconstitutional, as it violated the state’s “one subject” requirement for constitutional amendments.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen ruled that Amendment A featured “provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes,” noting that the state constitution “not only includes a single subject requirement but also directs proponents of a constitutional amendment to prepare an amendment so that the different subjects can be voted on separately.”

The decision upheld a lower court’s ruling from earlier in the year, which came after Noem and a pair of law enforcement officials challenged the amendment.

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling on the day before Thanksgiving, Noem struck a celebratory note.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” she said in a statement at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

The Argus Leader reported that South Dakota taxpayers will be footing the $142,000 in legal costs associated with Noem’s recreational pot challenge –– an expense that the governor believes should be shouldered by the advocates behind the amendment.

For Noem, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, the cannabis dispute has represented a rare political misstep. A poll last year found that only 39 percent of South Dakota voters approve of her handling of the recreational pot matter, while 17.8 percent said they somewhat disapprove and 33.4 percent said they strongly disapprove.

Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to her overall approval rating of 61 percent.

The medical cannabis program, meanwhile, has slowly taken shape. Enrollment for eligible patients began in November, while state-recognized dispensaries may open later this year.

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