SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The debate over marijuana continues at federal, state and local levels.
On Wednesday, the South Dakota debate regarding Initiated Measure 27 filled the downtown Sioux Falls public library. IM 27, which all registered South Dakota voters will weigh in, would legalize small amounts of marijuana for people age 21 or older.
Proponents have argued IM 27 allows more freedom for people to make their own choices, while opponents have argued it’ll harm kids and families.
Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 8 election, the issue of how to handle marijuana will remain in South Dakota. Changes at the federal level may also have an impact on South Dakota’s current medical marijuana program as well as marijuana issues like decriminalization and recreational use for adults.
On Oct. 6, President Joe Biden issued a pardon on prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana, urged governors to do the same with state offenses and called on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate administrative process to review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law, where it current classifies as a Schedule I drug.
“We need to ultimately fix this conflict between state and federal law,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign manager for Yes on IM 27 said after attending the news conference at the public library Wednesday.
“The way we’re going to get there is by continuing to pass laws at the state level,” Schweich said. “If we pass measure 27, It’s harder for Senator (Mike) Rounds and Senator (John) Thune and Representative (Dusty) Johnson, assuming they’re reelected, to continue their hardline position against any reform.”
A large group of public officials and local leaders in the Sioux Falls area joined Mayor Paul TenHaken to urge people to reject IM 27 and vote “no.” TenHaken said regardless of what happens at the federal level with marijuana, he wanted people to vote against IM 27.
“We’re going by the current laws on the books today. We can’t legislate on what-ifs. We have to legislate on the rules, federally, state, local that we have. And currently, it’s a Schedule I narcotic,” TenHaken said. “If that changes, there may be a new ballot initiative and we’ll deal with that at that time.”
Joining TenHaken in speaking were Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Daniel Haggar and Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Griffin, but representatives from the Sioux Falls School Board, city council, state lawmakers and the bishop of the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese were among those standing behind the speakers.
TenHaken said the group was not affiliated with Protecting South Dakota Kids that has organized with the secretary of state to campaign against IM 27. He stressed the opposition against IM 27 has nothing to do with medical marijuana, which was also on the ballot in 2020 along with Amendment A, which included legal marijuana.
“If you’re a cancer patient and you need medicinal (marijuana), you have options right now,” TenHaken said. “This has nothing to do with medicinal and I want to make that very clear to the community. This is sour stone kids. This is doobies. This is recreational, let’s have fun, vice marijuana.”
TenHaken said he believed there was a wake-up call after Amendment A passed in 2020.
“Luckily, it was written poorly so that we get another bite at the apple to determine if this is really right for our state,” TenHaken said.
After the news conference, Schweich criticized TenHaken for presenting FBI crime stats without context and not pointing out nine states that have legalized marijuana that don’t rank in the top 10 of homeless rates.
“This is just a way of presenting facts in the most fearful way possible,” Schweich said. “Why have all the other 19 states maintained their policies? Why hasn’t a single one of these 19 states repealed legalization?”
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8.