SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A bill to legalize the use and sale of adult use marijuana has made its way through the South Dakota Senate, and will now land in the House, where its prime sponsor predicts a tough, but not impossible, uphill battle.
SB 3, an Act to provide for the use and regulated sale of marijuana made it through the Senate on an 18-17 vote. Though it was a close vote, sponsor Sen. Michael Rohl (R-Aberdeen) says he’s not surprised it passed. “I actually thought I had 19 votes,” he remarked in a message to KELOLAND News.
When he was approached regarding the bill, Rohl said he was torn on whether or not to be the lead voice. “there are sections I would do differently,” he said.
While Rohl ultimately agreed to bring forward the bill he says that another avenue to legalization, a ballot measure, has elements he prefers. One of these is home cultivation.
“I think South Dakotans should have the right to grow their own cannabis if done responsibly, just like they can grow their own food or brew their own beer,” said Rohl. “[Home cultivation] was referenced throughout amendment A and therefore I would consider that a pillar of the [presented] program.”
Though SB 3 doesn’t include home cultivation, Rohl decided to go forward with sponsoring it. “In the end, I decided I gave that bill its best odds of getting a majority of the Senate to approve it,” he said. “There [were] too many great criminal justice reform pieces to not fight for it, knowing the majority of the people in my district voted for it.”
Rohl thinks the bill has a shot of passing through the house, but he’s also realistic about what that would take. “Without significant public outreach, the bill is unlikely to progress through a House Committee. I knew that when I agreed to sponsor it, but I also knew if I worked hard enough, a majority of the Senate could send a message to nearly 300,000 South Dakotans that we heard you and will fight for your voice,” he said.
The opposition to the bill was also something Rohl discussed.
Anytime you prime sponsor a bill that is opposed by Law Enforcement, States Attorney’s, Cabinet Agency’s, and your own chambers leadership; you know it will be an uphill battle, but my district didn’t elect me to fill a chair or take marching orders.Sen. Michael Rohl
Rohl emphasized the role that he says the public will need to get the bill through the House. “Lots of Emails and folks showing up in person in Pierre for the committee meeting [will be needed],” he said.
Asked whether he thinks the Governor, who has been openly opposed to legalization of recreational marijuana, would sign the bill, Rohl says he has not been in contact with her office regarding the bill, “but I’d be happy to walk her through it, if she so desired,” he said.
Ned Horsted, executive director of the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota, thinks it unlikely that Noem would sign the bill if it made it to her desk, but also pointed out that she doesn’t necessarily need to.
“I have not talked to the Governor about this directly,” Horsted qualified, “In South Dakota [the Governor] can not sign a bill, and have it ultimately go into effect without touching it.” This, he said is similar to what happened when Colorado legalized marijuana.
Horsted talked about the importance of the bill, and what he says are the benefits of legalization. “The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates that in a 2019/2020 survey, 82,000 South Dakotans use marijuana. If we pass SB 3, we replace the criminal black market sellers with regulated, taxed businesses,” he said.
Also discussed by Horsted is the popularity of recreational marijuana as an issue for South Dakotans. “[The legislature] basically got the answers for a test ahead of time and they’ve just been ignoring it entirely,” he said. “I’m hoping that the people in these districts who overwhelmingly supported [legalization] will be heard out, and ultimately the legislature will give the people what they ask for.”
SB 3 has not yet been assigned to a House Committee.