PIERRE — Legalized medical marijuana took a big step toward becoming a reality in South Dakota on Wednesday.
The South Dakota Senate could not reach agreement with the state House on a proposed delay in implementing Initiated Measure 26, which passed with nearly 70% of the vote on Nov. 3. The House had offered a bill moving the effective day, set for July 1 by the ballot measure, to Jan. 1, 2022.
But the Senate refused to pass a similar bill and a conference committee of three senators and three representatives could not strike a deal. With the regular session of the Legislature ending today, and lawmakers returning on March 29 to consider any vetoes and other final actions, it appears the efforts to alter the ballot measure are at an end.
State Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, celebrated the end of efforts to alter the ballot measure on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.
“Breaking news. HB 1100 that would have delayed medical marijuana to January 1, 2022, has failed,” Duba tweeted. “The House and Senate could not agree on common terms. Medical Marijuana will be legal in South Dakota as July 1. The will of people will be honored.”
New Approach South Dakota Executive Director Melissa Mentele of Emery, who has been campaigning for legal cannabis for several years, said the Legislature’s decision not to change Initiated Measure 26 would help people who rely on it for health reasons.
“Today is a victory for South Dakota medical marijuana patients who suffer from serious health conditions,” Mentele said. “Soon, they will no longer be forced to break the law in order to live healthier lives.”
Barring an unforeseen development, IM 26 takes effect July 1. At a press conference Thursday morning, Gov. Kristi Noem said she was “disappointed” but does not intend to continue to try to stop implementation of IM 26.
“I don’t have any plans really to pursue further legislation,” Noem said.
She said she does have concerns with people allowed to grow unlimited amount of marijuana at home if they have a prescription from a doctor. That means “kids of all ages” will have access to marijuana, she said.
However, that doesn’t mean people who obtain pot prescriptions will be able to fill them, according to Matthew Schweich, who was a key player in the South Dakota marijuana ballot measures that passed last fall.
“Measure 26 will take effect on July 1,” Schweich said. “However, on that day, there will only be limited legal protections for patients. These protections are defined under SDCL 34-20G-51. They do not prevent arrests. Medical marijuana patients will only be protected from arrests when they have medical marijuana patient ID cards.”
Under Measure 26, the Department of Health must start issuing medical marijuana patient ID cards to qualifying South Dakotans no later than Nov. 18, he said. This will be done in accordance with SDCL 34-20G-29.
“We hope that the Department of Health will move expeditiously and begin issuing cards sooner than the Nov. 18 deadline,” Schweich said.
The state Departments of Revenue, Health and Public Safety have been studying marijuana since November, with representatives from all three agencies meeting weekly.
The state joined the Cannabis Regulators Association, an organization of 25 states with legal marijuana regulatory programs and contracted with Cannabis Public Policy Consulting “to provide recommendations and best practices for a regulatory framework for both recreational and medical marijuana,” according to a state website.
However, Gov. Kristi Noem, who campaigned against both medical and recreational marijuana — it passed with 54% of the vote — has sought to delay medical pot and prevent recreational weed from being legalized.
She asked the Legislature to delay medical marijuana, noting other states have had between 14 months and two years to implement a state system. Noem had the Department of Public Safety and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom bring a lawsuit blocking the implementation of recreational pot, saying Amendment A was flawed. A circuit court judge agreed, but his ruling has been appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
Amendment A lawyers filed their appeal with the high court on Wednesday. But medical marijuana is on a fast track to legalization.
Schweich said seeing the efforts to delay implementation collapse brought on a pair of emotions.
“My reaction was relief and joy. I do this work to help medical marijuana patients and today we helped them,” he said Wednesday night. “And I also feel humbled by the incredible support that South Dakotans have provided to our effort. I’ve worked in many states on marijuana reform over the last six years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such passionate and dedicated activism from grassroots supporters. They are incredible and this win belongs to them.”
He is the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C., and was involved in winning ballot initiative campaigns in Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Utah, Montana and South Dakota and worked on an election reform campaign in Alaska.
Schweich said the Legislature’s decision not to interfere with a law approved by a vast majority of South Dakota voters was not unexpected.
“We are not necessarily surprised because we know that thousands of South Dakotans have been emailing and calling their legislators over the past several months demanding that the will of the people be respected,” he said. “In addition, we ran a very effective advocacy operation in Pierre. That being said, we went up against a governor who was determined to severely delay Measure 26. We were the underdogs and this was a very hard-fought victory. It took months of hard work. We had a few setbacks, but we finished strong.”
Schweich said the battle of Amendment A likely won’t be impacted by the medical marijuana victory.
“I don’t think it changes the Amendment A case. The South Dakota Supreme Court ruling will not be based on what happened during this legislative session,” he said. “We remain confident that the South Dakota Supreme Court will uphold Amendment A. The legal defense team is putting forth very strong arguments explaining that Amendment A is constitutional.”
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