Activists in South Dakota are coming together to pass separate ballot measures to approve medical marijuana and recreational cannabis in the state. If voters approve both proposals slated to appear on the November ballot, South Dakota will become the first U.S. state to legalize cannabis for use by adults and for medicinal purposes at the same time.
Backers for both ballot measures have come together to form South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, a bipartisan group that is coordinating a joint Yes on A/ Yes on 26 campaign. Constitutional Amendment A would legalize cannabis for use by adults and create a system to regulate and tax the production, distribution, and sale of recreational cannabis. Initiated Measure 26 would legalize the medical use of marijuana for patients with a doctor’s recommendation and establish a system for the distribution of medicinal cannabis.
Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney for South Dakota during the Obama administration and sponsor of Amendment A, said that it is time for a new approach to marijuana policy.
“The outright prohibition on cannabis does not work,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that the current drive to reform policing and the criminal justice system brought about by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police may lead to increased support for the campaign to legalize cannabis in South Dakota.
“People are more conscious than ever about the concern of over-criminalization,” he said. “Law enforcement priorities should be focused on significant crimes.”
“Of course, that does not mean we favor no restrictions on cannabis,” Johnson added. “We certainly do.”
Bipartisan Support For Legalization In South Dakota
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is also supported by Chuck Parkinson, who helped wage the failed War on Drugs with the Reagan administration.
“I’ve come to the conclusion after all these years, we’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars and really gotten no results and we’ve ruined lives,” Parkinson said. “We have taken away productive citizens who cannot get jobs, because they may have a drug conviction on their case file.”
On Wednesday, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws released a list of 50 prominent state residents from both major political parties who have signed on as supporters of the legalization measures. Predictably absent from that list is Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who has said that cannabis is a gateway to more dangerous drugs. Last year, she vetoed a bill that would have legalized hemp agriculture and only signed a similar measure this year after lawmakers agreed to increase funding for drug law enforcement.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem, said that she would vote against both cannabis legalization ballot proposals, although he did not say if she would actively work to see them voted down.“The governor has always opposed legalizing marijuana and therefore opposes these measures,” Fury said. “I cannot speak to what role she will play in these campaigns.”