South Dakotans to Vote on Cannabis Legalization in November


Residents of South Dakota will get a chance to vote for the legalization of adult-use marijuana this November, Secretary of State Steve Barnett’s office announced Monday.

According to a press release, Barnett validated and filed a petition that was submitted and would amend the South Dakota Constitution to “legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana.”

If passed, the ballot measure – called Constitutional Amendment A -- would allow individuals 21 years and older to possess, use, transport and distribute one ounce of marijuana. It would also establish a 15% tax on cannabis sales and allow the state's Department of Revenue to issue licenses to “commercial cultivators and manufacturers, testing facilities, wholesalers and retailers.”

Under the proposal, the South Dakota Legislature would also be required to pass laws regarding the cultivation, processing and sale of hemp as well as the use of medical marijuana by April 1, 2022.

A separate ballot initiative that was certified last month, called measure 26, would legalize medical marijuana sales. 

According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a leading cannabis policy organization, South Dakota will become the first state to vote on both medical and recreational cannabis initiatives on the same ballot.

“The adult-use legalization initiative will greatly benefit the people of South Dakota by ending the injustice of arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for marijuana offenses,” MPP deputy director Matthew Schweich said via a statement. “It will focus law enforcement resources on fighting serious crime, generate new tax revenue for the state, and create jobs.”

Schweich added that it is "increasingly unlikely” any federal cannabis legalization efforts will gain steam in 2020.

“Therefore, it is crucial that our movement win as many ballot initiative campaigns as possible this November and increase the pressure on Congress to take action,” he said.

The push for recreational cannabis legalization was led by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, a political campaign that submitted over 53,000 voter signatures for its initiative in November, 2019. As second group, New Approach South Dakota, submitted over 30,000 signatures for its statutory initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

Constitutional amendments require at least 33,921 valid signatures under South Dakota law, while statutory initiatives require 16,961 valid signatures.

Barnett’s office noted that a random sample of signatures submitted by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws found over 68% to be valid. As a result, his office determined that 36,707 signatures were valid.

Any South Dakota citizen is allowed to challenge the measure, however. The deadline to contest the results of the random sample is February 5, 2020 at 5:00 pm central time.

Earlier this year, the South Dakota Legislative Research Council determined that revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis would exceed $10 million in fiscal year 2022 and generate upwards of $30 million in fiscal year 2024.

“Legalizing cannabis would provide revenues from licensing fees, sales tax & 15% excise tax,” wrote Jason Hancock, director of the council. “After deducting regulatory costs, the State would distribute 50% of net revenues each year to public school & 50% to the general fund. Incarceration costs would decrease & serious car accident costs would increase.”

Hancock also noted that legalizing medical marijuana would initially cost the state $677,309.

“Once the medical cannabis program is operational, it is expected that ongoing program revenues would cover program costs for a net to zero,” he wrote, adding that the measure would “likely have minimal impact on prison and jail costs.”

The sale of recreational cannabis is currently legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis sales and 47 states have reformed cannabis laws.

Illinois was the most recent state to begin selling adult-use cannabis, recording nearly $11 million in sales within the first week. Some pot shops have been forced to temporarily shutter due to shortages, the Chicago Sun-Times reported

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