PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota voters might face two decisions next year about whether to legalize marijuana and, if so, how far to go.

Both initiated measures could be on the November 3, 2020, statewide ballot.

A measure already being circulated for voters’ signatures would legalize marijuana and paraphernalia.

A measure that would legalize medical marijuana, including for students in K-12 schools, is at the pre-circulation stage.

To qualify, each measure’s sponsor needs to submit to the South Dakota Secretary of State office in Pierre at least 16,961 valid signatures from registered South Dakota voters before 5 p.m. CT this November 4.

South Dakota law requires the state attorney general to issue an official statement explaining the potential effects of a ballot measure before its sponsor can seek signatures.

Then-Attorney General Marty Jackley provided his explanation December 21 on the marijuana and paraphernalia measure.

State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg issued his explanation of the medical-marijuana measure August 5.

KELO Ravnsborg, Jason
Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg

John Dale of Spearfish is sponsor of the full-legalization measure that’s already in the field.

“We are off to a fantastic start and have far surpassed our signature
totals of our last campaign,” he said.

But he declined to say how many have been collected.

“Please understand that I’d like to refrain from publishing information
that might affect the outcome; too many signatures generates
complacency, too few generates apathy,” Dale replied in a followup email. 

“Because of the process we have designed, we need exactly that amount, but we will collect signatures right up to the submission date,” he said. “Operationally, our calculations indicate that we need minimum 18 days
to collect all signatures after we achieve a critical mass of participants in our privacy certified database of South Dakota cannabis legalization supporters.”

Asked why he thought a legalization measure would do better in 2020, Dale responded:

“South Dakota voters have accepted half measures like medicinal
proposals begrudgingly, incorrectly thinking these proposals will make
it past the Legislature.  But the Legislature knows these half
measures are designed to create cover for the black market, keep
pricing artificially high, and creep toward full legalization anyway.

“Yet, nearly all cannabis supporters in South Dakota want full
legalization and freedom to grow their own.  Even opponents of
legalization must admit that saving the state $3,100,000 in jail and
prison costs is a compelling reason for legalization (from the LRC
fiscal note
on our proposal). 

“The average South Dakota voters do not support proposals requiring a big cash outlay by the state, totalitarian controls over production and distribution, and hidden felonies.  The CC4L proposal allows average South Dakota people to express themselves about honest, direct, transparent, and full legalization of this miracle plant,” Dale wrote. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eleven states and the District of Columbia have legalized various amounts of marijuana for recreational use, while medical marijuana was legal in 34 states and other U.S. jurisdictions as of mid-2019.

Melissa Mentele of Emery is listed as sponsor of the medical-legalization measure she wants on the 2020 South Dakota ballot. She represents New Approach. She said the target is 30,000 signatures, at 400 per day, for 75 days, from more than 260 people and business sponsors.

“New Approach will continue with our science- and fact-based educational approach to compassionate access,” Mentele said in an email response to KELOLAND questions.

“South Dakota polling has shown incredible support for both medical and recreational legalization. In the past the barrier to ballot access has been lack of funding, not lack of support,” she wrote.

“This campaign has been built up by the two past attempts to achieve ballot access. With each disappointment we grew, we reached more South Dakota residents, we learned some valuable lessons and made some strong alliances,” she continued.

The 2010 general election marked the most recent time a legalization proposal was on the South Dakota ballot. Voters rejected the medical-use proposal with 115,667 yes and 199,552 no.

Voters also turned down several previous legalization measures, including medical marijuana in 2006 (157,953 yes, 171,178 no) and industrial hemp in 2002 (119,990 yes, 196,060 no). Attempts to get a legalization measure on the 2018 ballot didn’t succeed.

The 2020 proposed medical-legalization act covers 26 standard-print pages and has 96 sections. The final section would require the state Department of Education to set a policy allowing medical use in K-12 schools throughout South Dakota by card-carrying people including students.

Mentele explained why she thinks the school-use section is significant.

“In South Dakota many of the patients that will qualify under this initiative are children that are school aged. These children have the right to spend the time they have in school as an integral part of the classroom dynamic without disruption,” she said.

“In states that do not have a stipulation to allow on-site administration those children must be removed not only from the classroom but also school grounds to administer their medicine. This causes a disruption in their day, the classroom and in the daily routine that is a core part of education,” she continued.

“This section was advocated heavily by parents whose children will qualify and similar laws have been passed in other states. Jack’s Law in Colorado & Ashley’s Law in Illinois are good reference points,” Mentele wrote.

Governor Kristi Noem opposed the Legislature’s attempt to legalize industrial hemp in South Dakota this year. Her veto letter made several arguments, including that industrial hemp threatened to be a gateway to marijuana legalization.

KELO Kristi Noem Gov Photo
Gov. Kristi Noem

The Legislature’s Executive Board has appointed a study committee to get a new version ready for the 2020 session. The panel met for the first time July 11 and some members visited Kentucky to see its program.

Noem’s office staff didn’t respond to KELOLAND questions about the two ballot measures. Mary Stadick Smith provided the state Department of Education’s position on the school-use requirement.

The deputy secretary said the department would follow the requirement if voters approve the medical-legalization measure.

“If the measure passes, DOE would go through the (state) Board of Education Standards, as is the usual process for rules. Then it would go to Legislature’s Rules Review Committee,” Stadick Smith wrote in response to one of KELOLAND’s questions.

She continued, “Should the law change, the department would comply with relevant laws and collaborate with the Department of Health and other pertinent departments and boards to bring about a smooth transition to a new law.”