South Dakota Pot Legalization Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

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The South Dakota Secretary of State announced on Wednesday that a ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adults has received enough verified signatures to qualify for the November election, giving the state’s voters another chance to legalize recreational pot at the ballot box. Secretary of State Steve Barnett also announced that the proposal sponsored by the group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) will be titled Initiated Measure 27 for this year’s general election.

The Secretary of State’s office reported that the SDBML campaign had collected a total 31,588 signatures. An analysis of a random sample of the signatures determined that approximately 79.2% were validated as coming from South Dakota registered voters. Based on the results of the random sample, 25,023 signatures were deemed valid by state officials, far more than the 16,961 signatures currently required to qualify a measure for the ballot.

“We are very pleased that we’ve qualified for the ballot and we are extremely thankful to everyone who signed our petitions, our volunteers, our staff and our supporters,” SDBML director Matthew Schweich told the Argus Leader. “We look forward to being on the ballot in November and we’re confident we can win again and restore the will of the people of [S]outh Dakota.”

Under the proposal, adults aged 21 and older would be permitted to possess and buy up to one ounce of weed and grow up to three cannabis plants at home. Public consumption, cultivation of more than three plants, and some other cannabis-related activities would still be against the law, but violators would only face civil penalties for such offenses.

Successful 2020 Ballot Measure Struck Down in South Dakota

A more comprehensive ballot measure, Amendment A, was approved by 54% of South Dakota voters in 2020. But after legal challenges supported by Republican Governor Kristi Noem, an opponent of recreational cannabis legalization, the ballot measure was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Unlike Amendment A, Initiated Measure 27 does not attempt to establish a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and sales or levy a tax on the cannabis industry. Instead, this year’s ballot measure legalizes possession and purchases of cannabis and leaves the details up to state lawmakers. Activists hope that the more than 8,000 extra signatures collected will help dissuade opponents from filing new legal actions to stop legalization.

“One of the main reasons why we maintained such ambitious goals for our signature drive was to ensure that we had a healthy margin, so we could deter our opponents from filing a lawsuit,” Schweich said. “This was the plan to have this buffer and be sure there would be no more lawsuits over cannabis initiatives in South Dakota.”

But the effort to legalize recreational pot in South Dakota faces a new challenge from a proposal on the ballot for the primary election next month. Under Amendment C, future ballot measures would require 60% of the vote to pass if they enact a tax or require state appropriations of $10 million or more in any of the first five years of enactment. If Amendment C is passed by voters in the June primary election, it would go into effect before the November general election. The effect that would have on Initiated Measure 27 is unclear.

“We must defeat Amendment C on June 7,” Schweich said. “Amendment C is a shameful and cowardly attack on the constitutional ballot initiative rights of the people of South Dakota. This convoluted proposal, created by politicians in [the South Dakota capital of] Pierre, has the potential to cripple the initiative process and could even be used to undermine our 2022 cannabis legalization measure. We cannot allow politicians to get away with this.”

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