PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Making medical marijuana legal in South Dakota got more support statewide in the November election than either big name for U.S. president.
Strong popularity is why Republicans who control the Legislature, and the Republican governor who campaigned against its passage, promise South Dakota will have a medical marijuana program.
But just not this year, they announced this week.
A one-year delay however isn’t the timetable called for in state law, which says: “Each constitutional amendment, initiated measure, or referred law that is approved by a majority of all votes cast is effective on the first day of July after the completion of the official canvass by the State Canvassing Board.”
Republican legislators changed that law just four years ago, after they had gone to court immediately after the November 2016 election and convinced a circuit judge to throw out Initiated Measure 22, which was intended to make significant reforms in the conduct of state government and elections. Voters had approved it 180,634 to 169,199. While now-retired Judge Mark Barnett’s order stayed in effect, many Republican lawmakers repealed IM 22 during the 2017 legislative session. In some cases, legislators from both parties turned around and separately adopted key pieces from it.
Meanwhile a Republican-led effort was underway to change the law regarding when ballot measures take effect. It previously said the day after the canvassing board was done. The 2017 change, sponsored by then-Senator Jim White and Representative Mike Stevens, pushed the date back more than seven months to July 1. That opened the possibility for the Legislature to alter or repeal what voters had passed before it could take effect.
291,754 voters marked their ballots “yes” for Initiated Measure 26 in the November 3, 2020, election. That was greater than the 261,043 who wanted Republican Donald Trump or the 150,471 who chose Democrat Joe Biden. Another way to gauge the widespread popularity of IM 26 was that the 125,488 voters who marked their ballots “no” were less than the votes either Trump or Biden received.
KELOLAND News found that two dozen counties had more “yes” votes for IM 26 than for Trump or Biden: Bennett, Brookings, Brown (Aberdeen), Buffalo, Clay (Vermillion), Codington (Watertown), Corson, Day, Dewey, Hughes (Pierre), Lake (Madison), Lawrence (Spearfish), Lincoln (south Sioux Falls), Lyman, Marshall, Mellette, Minnehaha (Sioux Falls), Moody, Pennington (Rapid City), Roberts, Todd, Union, Yankton and Ziebach.
IM 26 also outperformed Constitutional Amendment A, which was supposed to make all forms of marijuana and hemp legal in South Dakota. Voters approved Amendment A 225,260 to 190,477. But there was a big difference: IM 26 won majorities in 63 of 66 counties while Amendment A won in just 25, but they tended to be those with larger population centers and in Indian country.
A circuit judge ruled Monday that Amendment A is invalid, based on arguments lawyers for state Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom made on behalf of the governor. (Noem had appointed Christina Klinger as a judge in 2019.) The sponsor of Amendment A, former U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Brendan Johnson, said his side would start preparing an appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court.
The governor has been through a similar political fight in the recent past over legalizing industrial hemp in South Dakota. She vetoed low-THC hemp legislation in 2019, saying in her letter to legislators that it could open the door to marijuana legalization. She agreed to much more-detailed hemp legislation last year, after getting money from the Legislature to pay for regulating it.
Even though the industrial hemp law had an emergency clause, meaning it took effect immediately after she signed March 30 rather than the standard July 1 date for most laws, there seemed to be little urgency to the process and the U.S. Department of Agriculture didn’t approve South Dakota’s program until late in the year. The state Department of Public Safety and the state Department of Agriculture got rules through at the legislative oversight committee’s final meeting December 7.
Noem hasn’t changed her position of opposing legal marijuana, period. She said Thursday that legislators attempting to pass bills this session based on Amendment A could try. But, she told reporters, “I would not be inclined to sign one.”