PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Several people from groups intending to make money from legalized marijuana in South Dakota and a tribal government that’s already been in the business of growing and selling marijuana gave testimony Thursday to state lawmakers.
The Legislature’s Marijuana Interim Study Committee also heard from a person representing the Concerned Women of America, who called for state government to offer a public education program on marijuana, including its rising level of hallucinogens.
“I haven’t heard anything about guns and marijuana,” Terri Jorgenson, who lives in the Rapid City area, told the panel. She said people shouldn’t lose their Second Amendment rights because they get certified for medical marijuana use.
Emmett Reistroffer of Sioux Falls, representing several cannabis-related businesses, said the Legislature’s top priority should be that the public has “safe access” to marijuana.
“The difference is where they’re getting it,” Reistroffer said. “Folks are getting it currently from the illicit market. I wish maybe there was a magic wand and there were no drugs and there was no alcohol and humanity was, you know, we were all perfect saints, but that’s not the case. It’s a reality that we live with, that a certain percentage of the population uses cannabis. And it’s just like a certain percentage of the population uses alcohol. Also, a certain percentage uses pharmaceutical drugs for their ailments.”
He said the 225,000 who voted for Constitutional Amendment A in the November election, legalizing marijuana for people age 21 and older, didn’t do it because they consume cannabis or want to consume cannabis. He said their votes were a statement of agreement that the policy of the past, with marijuana as a crime in South Dakota, hasn’t worked.
Jeremiah Murphy of Rapid City, a lobbyist for the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota, said the trade group represented the organizations that put Amendment A and the medical-marijuana initiative on the state’s 2020 election ballot.
He said surveys by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted in 2017 through 2019 estimated South Dakota had about 82,000 marijuana users age 12 and older.
“Some of those people are using it medicinally. Some of those people are using it as an adult recreational product. And minors are using it and, we could not — we oppose that 100 percent. But the product is here; the users are here. What that means is the business is here,” Murphy said.
He asked, “Do we let the black market continue to serve marijuana customers in South Dakota? And they’re not taxed, and they don’t care about putting clear information on labels, and they’re happy to sell edibles that are in the shape of your favorite cartoon character, and they don’t pay taxes, and you don’t know who they are, and you don’t know where that money goes.”
The legislators also listened to the attorney general of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Seth Pearman, who described how the tribe’s elected government tried to get into the marijuana business back in 2015 but soon shut down those operations because of state and federal criminal prosecution.
Marijuana continues to be a schedule 1 drug on the federal list of controlled substances.
Since South Dakota’s passage of Amendment A and IM 26 in November, the Flandreau Santee Sioux government has opened a marijuana growing center and plans a marijuana testing lab that will be independently run on land leased from the tribe.
Pearman said tribal governments, including the nine whose reservations share the same physical geography as South Dakota, have their own jurisdictions that need to be respected. “Some tribes have legalized marijuana. Some have not,” he said.
“The big picture is, tribes need this revenue,” Pearman said. “Indian gaming was a big deal for the tribes when it first was enacted. But because of competition from out-of-state interests, and from just the economic decline from COVID-related things… tribal gaming is not something we can depend on wholly anymore.”
He said unemployment caused by the lack of economic activity on some reservations and from COVID has been “very challenging” for the tribes to overcome: “With these new jobs, new revenue streams, it can really bring the tribes into the next economic boom. Tribes also may want to participate in the marijuana market off reservations.”
The Flandreau Santee Sioux and most tribes will have their marijuana businesses “completely vertically integrated, so they’ll be cultivating and selling on their reservations themselves,” Pearman said. “But we want to be in a position where any rules promulgated and statutes passed are flexible enough to allow tribes to participate in the market, as well as to ensure public safety.”
He also urged that the federal Indian Health Service and tribal health providers get a seat at the table. Approximately three dozen of South Dakota’s 66 counties have reservations or tribal trust land and many tribal members live off-reservation.