South Dakota Voters Likely to See Two Cannabis Measures on the 2020 Ballot


South Dakota is close to having adult-use and medical cannabis legalization measures on the 2020 ballot. 

On Monday, two groups—South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and New Approach South Dakota—submitted far more than the number of signatures required for approval to the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office. 

If the signatures are validated by the office, South Dakota voters will be the first to see both medical and adult use legalization measures on the same ballot. And while there are campaigns to place cannabis legalization measures on ballots underway in states like Arizona, Florida, and Montana, these cannabis measures in South Dakota, if enough signatures are valid, would be the first to qualify for 2020. 

The adult-use cannabis measure, a constitutional amendment sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, received more than 50,000 signed petitions from state residents, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been supporting both campaigns in the state. The required number of valid signatures is 33,921. The measure, if approved by voters in 2020, would legalize the possession, use, and distribution of adult-use cannabis for residents aged 21 and older, according to the petition. 

New Approach South Dakota submitted more than 30,000 signed petitions for a medical cannabis measure that would legalize the use of cannabis, including for minors, for “debilitating medical conditions.” This one is a statutory initiative, which requires 16,961 valid signatures.

Both measures will have enough voter approval to pass in 2020, Matthew Schweich, deputy director of Marijuana Policy Project told Cannabis Wire.  

“Our research shows that majority of South Dakota voters support medical, support hemp, support legalization,” Schweich said. “We’re here to give the voters of the state the opportunity to adopt those policies because the legislature has not acted.”

The Marijuana Policy Project has been working with both campaigns in partnership with New Approach PAC. New Approach PAC, which supported the adult use legalization initiatives in Oregon and California, counted Privateer Holdings, the Seattle-based private equity firm that is behind Canadian cannabis company Tilray, as a major donor in 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles. It’s unclear if Privateer is contributing to the PAC during this cycle; Privateer Holdings did not return requests for comment. 

Such cannabis reform campaigns need more support from the industry, Schweich said, adding that MPP needs more financial help to fund signature drives, campaign teams, and television and online advertisements. 

“We need the industry to step up more,” Schweich said. “I think the industry should recognize the importance of these ballot initiative campaigns as they relate to the prospects of federal reform.”

“We’re going to continue raising money from everyone out there—Privateer, other businesses, philanthropists, small dollar donors,” Schweich said. “Our goal is to raise as much money as we can across the country so we can run as many campaigns as possible.”

South Dakota is one of only three states where all forms of cannabis are prohibited, the other two being Kansas and Idaho.

The measure sponsored by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws would tax adult-use cannabis sales at 15 percent, and would limit possession to one ounce and home cultivation to six cannabis plants. 

The measure also requires lawmakers to establish regulations governing the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp by April 2022. 

A bill to legalize industrial hemp was vetoed by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem this year, who later said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in September that she would do so again if a bill comes up in 2020. 

“Nothing would make me happier than finding a way to introduce a new cash crop into South Dakota’s agricultural economy,” she wrote in the piece, but that “industrial hemp isn’t that crop.” 

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