SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Voters approved recreational marijuana in South Dakota in 2020, but the state took Amendment A to court and won on a technicality over legal language.
Now the same people who worked to get the issue on the ballot two years ago are working to do it again in 2022.
“Our conservative estimate right now is that we’re at 13,500 valid signatures and we need 17,000 valid signatures,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana laws said.
Schweich says this signature drive is to put a statutory initiative on the ballot that is a very simplified, shortened version of Amendment A.
“I would call it legalization for individuals,” Schweich said. “It makes it legal for an adult 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce, to cultivate up to three plants at home and it reduces three personal penalties related to how you grow it.”
Schweich says if it gets on the ballot he’s confident voters would approve it again, but he says the past weeks its been harder than expected to collect more valid petition signatures.
“We are a little nervous, we are within striking distance of getting enough valid signatures and qualifying for the ballot, but really don’t want to take any chances,” Schweich said.
While the campaign is hoping to collect roughly 10,000 more signatures than they need to get on the ballot, petition circulators are hearing a common issue from potential signers.
“South Dakota is sick of it, we’re all exhausted,” Melissa Mentele said. “It’s not the issue people are exhausted with, they’re exhausted with the process of I vote, and it doesn’t matter.”
Melissa Mentele with New Approach South Dakota has helped with three petition drives over the past seven years that involved getting cannabis on the ballot. Those efforts were successful and passed by voters, but now those voters are frustrated at having to go through the whole process again.
“That’s the biggest thing that we’re running into. It’s not, I already signed this, its, why should I sign this because it doesn’t matter,” Mentele said.
While the campaign leaders heading the effort to legalize marijuana in the state share in those frustrations, they’re asking voters in the state not to give up the fight.
“There’s a bit of a sense of complacency. People think that this initiative is just going to put itself on the ballot; I don’t need to sign, other people will do it. I don’t need to volunteer, other people will do it,” Schweich said.
Schweich says donors through the national non profit New Approach along with several local donors like the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe have invested nearly $3 million in the effort to legalize marijuana in the state and fight the state’s lawsuit against Amendment A. Now those donors are investing another $250,000 into this petition drive to get the issue on the 2022 ballot.
“We have roughly 15 to 20 paid circulators working right now and we’re hoping to hire another 20 to 30,” Schweich said. “Our starting pay is $22 an hour.”
The campaign is also looking for more volunteers to help host petition drives this weekend in Rapid City and next weekend in Sioux Falls.
“We need volunteers everywhere in the state, including rural locations where we don’t have signing locations,” Quincy Hanzen, the field director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws said.
The organization has also started its own petition hotline at 605-269-8552 for anyone with questions or interested in helping out with the effort.
“Call or text any time of day, we want to hear from you,” Schweich said.
“We need to get this on the ballot and passed,” Ned Horsted, the executive director of the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota said. “It will create a lot of new jobs, a lot of new tax revenue for South Dakota and a great deal of economic opportunity for the people of this great state.”
More groups are joining the effort in the final 20 days of the petition drive, working to fight through the frustrations of voters.
“You have to engage, you can’t just roll over and say because we think they’re going to take it away, we’re not going to do it, you have to stay actively engaged,” Mentele said.
“It really is an injustice, but we can’t change that. But what we have control over is getting on the ballot, so let’s get on the ballot,” Schweich said.
The campaign is being more stringent about validation and says bad handwriting and people moving after signing the petition are the biggest issues. They now have a new online resource where people can check to make sure their signature has been validated.
“Fill out our signature checker, we’re doing a rigorous check of all signatures,” Schweich said.
“The most important things are write legibly, fill out all six boxes and do not move between the time you sign the petition and the petitions are verified, because if you do move and change your voter registration it does invalidate it,” Mentele said.
Mentele says it’s also important to make sure you haven’t double signed the petition. Dual signatures will invalidate both signatures, which can quickly hurt their count to make it to the 17,000 valid signatures.
The campaign is being more stringent about validation and says bad handwriting and people moving after signing the petition are the biggest issues.
They also have a new online resource to make sure your signature is valid.