South Dakota Voters Approve Ballot Initiative Legalizing Marijuana

In what is fast becoming the norm throughout the country, on November 3, 2020, another U.S. state has voted to allow for both medical and recreational marijuana production and sale. South Dakota voters approved two separate measures that pave the way for the legalization of marijuana. With a majority vote of 54%, South Dakotans approved a measure that will amend its constitution to allow for recreational sales of marijuana. In a separate measure, voters approved medical marijuana sales with an overwhelming 69% of the vote. Here’s more.

Measure 26

The recreational measure will make it possible for those who are 21 years of age and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate up to three cannabis plants, and be able to legally purchase medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries if they have a qualifying condition and a prescription from a physician. South Dakota Department of Health will have until October 29, 2021 to enact regulations for the program and must issue patient registration cards by November 18, 2021.

Challenges Expected

The recreational measure still has a long way to go before licensed dispensaries will be able to legally sell the drug. While legalization will take effect in July 2021, Department of Revenue has until April 2022 to develop licensing regulations. From now until then, the measure may experience legal challenges from lawmakers who are opposed to legalization. In fact, the Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, recently expressed uncertainty over the legality and efficacy of the voter measure. “I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities,” the Governor said. “We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort.”

Lawmakers have specifically questioned whether the constitutional amendment is sufficient to create the pathway toward legal recreational marijuana sales. The challenge is how to align existing laws, both state and federal, into this new framework. Analysts predict that there may be legal challenges before any substantive changes take effect. Still, because the measure created a constitutional amendment, there is only so much that lawmakers will be able to do to override the will of the people.

What remains to be seen is how the Governor will treat any legislation that comes across her desk. All legislative actions created to comply with the amendment must be approved by Governor Noem. A legislative impasse is not out of the question as the Governor has publicly voiced displeasure with the measure and has previously vetoed a bill that sought to make hemp cultivation legal. Nevertheless, South Dakota residents have made their choice clear, and the effort to legalize and implement regulations is taking hold.

Aaron Pelley

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