Equality & Equity

South Dakota Approves Cannabis Legalization

South Dakota Approves Cannabis Legalization

The day after the South Dakota House voted to defeat a measure to establish a tax model and other regulations for a cannabis market, the state Senate approved bills to legalize and tax marijuana and expunge low-level cannabis offenses

South Dakota voters approved cannabis legalization in the 2020 election only to see it challenged by the governor and struck down by the state Supreme Court.

In a narrow, 18-17 vote, the state Senate approved SB 3, advancing it to the House. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Rohl, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana from licensed retailers. 

Home cultivation would still be prohibited. Likely contested by reform advocates, the bill prohibits anyone with a felony conviction from holding a cannabis business license.

The state Department of Revenue would regulate the adult-use program and create rules related to issues such as transportation and registration. Local municipalities could opt out of allowing marijuana businesses within their jurisdiction.

The state Senate also approved SB 150, a separate bill that stipulates that only existing businesses that currently hold liquor licenses can enter the marijuana market – gas stations, grocery stores, and bars. These locations offer people a chance to purchase cannabis supplies

A bill to allow automatic expungements five years after a person’s conviction for low-level marijuana offenses also passed the Senate.

The legislature also passed a 15 percent excise tax on cannabis products. The bill’s text states that revenue from those taxes goes to a marijuana fund that will be subject to appropriations “through the normal budget process.”

Cannabis reform advocates celebrated the defeat of SB 20, which would’ve eliminated provisions under a program approved in 2020 that offered legal protections for medical marijuana patients.

“SB 20 would have abolished the affirmative defense and re-criminalized patients in defiance of the will of the people,” said Matthew Schweich, director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. “The defeat of this legislation is a victory for medical cannabis patients and a victory for personal freedom.”

Clearly, South Dakotans favor cannabis reform, but Gov. Noem recently told reporters that she’s “never been supportive of recreational marijuana.”

A recent poll showed that most South Dakota voters approve of Noem’s overall job performance, but 51 percent disapprove of her handling of marijuana legalization. The governor is up for reelection this November, but it’s unclear how her stance against cannabis will affect her campaign.

Despite having opposed a separate medical marijuana legalization initiative that voters also overwhelmingly approved last year, the governor has been associating herself with the proposal in the run-up to the election.

Recently, Noem’s office has started exploring a compromise. One proposal from her administration is to limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three, decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.

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