PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two of the three candidates seeking to be the next governor of South Dakota are in favor of making marijuana legal for adults in much the same way that alcohol is.
Democrat Jamie Smith and Libertarian Tracey Quint support Initiated Measure 27 that will also be on the November 8 election ballot. The proposal would set a legal threshold of age 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to grow three marijuana plants outside public view.
Smith on his website calls the topic “Cannabis.” His site says, “In South Dakota, the people rule. As Governor, I will always seek to carry out the will of the people. We must acknowledge and carry out that decision, which means legalizing recreational cannabis rather than wasting taxpayer dollars on lawsuits. Legalization will also create thousands of potential new jobs and increase our annual GDP by more than $14 million.”
Quint on her website calls the topic “Cannabis Legalization.” Her site goes further: “South Dakota voters voted to legalize cannabis in 2020 — until Kristi Noem unjustly used her influence in the state to declare it unconstitutional. The Quint/Strand campaign advocates for the full legalization of cannabis in South Dakota.”
Governor Kristi Noem, the Republican candidate, opposed the 2020 ballot measure that sought to legalize recreational marijuana. After Amendment A passed with 54% of the vote, Noem had the head of the South Dakota Highway Patrol challenge it in state court. The South Dakota Supreme Court eventually ruled that it violated the single-subject requirement and declared it void.
Her website defends that action: “When Governor Noem was sworn in, she took an oath to uphold the South Dakota and United States Constitutions. She reviews every piece of legislation and every ballot measure to ensure that it follows the Constitution, and she will continue to do so.”
If voters pass IM 27, it would be a state law. Amendment A on the other hand would have been part of the state constitution. That is an important difference. The Legislature could change IM 27 or even repeal the law altogether, while a constitutional amendment can be changed only through a statewide vote.
Noem opposes IM 27: “(S)he is personally opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana,” according to her campaign website. Her website also says, in boldface: “The recreational marijuana measure currently on the ballot appears to be written in a constitutional fashion. If the voters pass it, Governor Noem will once again work with the legislature to enact it according to the will of the voters with appropriate safeguards for public health and safety.“
South Dakota voters in 2020 also passed Initiated Measure 26, legalizing medical cannabis for anyone, regardless of age, provided they met certain conditions including approval by a physician. That won with nearly 70% support.
Her website says, “Governor Noem has always supported medical cannabis, believing that it should be available for South Dakotans once it received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).”
That is a safe position to take at this time, because the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance, with criminal penalties for anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing it.
In 2019, after Amendment A and IM 26 were submitted as potential ballot measures, Noem said she supported some derivatives of marijuana that were legal for medical use in South Dakota, but she otherwise opposed marijuana for medical or recreational use.
After the 2020 election, Noem issued a statement about both Amendment A and IM 26 that said, “I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities. We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort. I’m also very disappointed that we will be growing state government by millions of dollars in costs to public safety and to set up this new regulatory system.”
IM 26 created various medical-cannabis state laws that were subject to any changes by the Legislature. Noem on her campaign website notes, “This past legislative session, Governor Noem signed dozens of bills sent to her by the legislature to place common-sense guidelines on the state’s medical cannabis program. These bills were primarily the result of a summer study conducted by the legislature, and the Governor was glad to work with the people’s elected representatives on these reforms.”
Noem previously fought against legalizing industrial hemp in South Dakota. She vetoed legislation in 2019, saying it would open the way for recreational marijuana. An excerpt from that veto message:
“Finally, I am concerned that this bill supports a national effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use. I do not doubt the motives of this bill’s legislative champions. However, an overwhelming number of contacts I have received in favor of this bill come from pro-marijuana activists. There is no question in my mind that normalizing hemp, like legalizing medical marijuana, is part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable.“
She issued a lengthy statement later that year that said, in part, “Legalizing industrial hemp weakens drug laws. It hurts law enforcement. It’s a step backward. South Dakota already faces a drug problem. Families continue to be ripped apart by substance abuse. I realize this position might not be popular, but that’s not why I’m taking it. As a governor who has said I will make every decision with the next generation in mind, I cannot sit by.”
Noem later softened her opposition, issuing a ‘Four Guardrails’ statement in early 2020 that signaled her willingness to accept industrial hemp legislation. She signed the final version of the bill into law on March 27, 2020, after lawmakers provided the $3.5 million she wanted for its administration.