South Dakota voters to decide on two marijuana ballot measures

As South Dakotans head to the polls this election, two marijuana reform measures will be on the ballot. Constitutional Amendment A would legalize recreational marijuana for those 21 years or older, and Initiated Measure 26 would legalize medicinal marijuana for those with qualifying conditions.

Amendment A would allow individuals of legal age to possess and distribute up to 1 ounce of marijuana and, under certain conditions, grow up to three marijuana plants in a private residence, according to the South Dakota secretary of state.

The Financial Implications

Drey Samuelson, the political director for Amendment A and Initiated Measure 26, said legalizing recreational marijuana would boost South Dakota’s economy and lead to a “substantial surge in tourism.”

“If we pass Amendment A, it will be rocket fuel for our state’s economy,” Samuelson said. “It will also lead to a boom in employment in the state. If we pass Amendment A, we develop our own marijuana industry. All the marijuana that is sold in the state will have to be grown in the state.”

Opponents of Amendment A fear that legalizing recreational marijuana would force some employers to lay off large portions of their workforce. David Owen, president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry and chairman of the No Way on A committee said companies that contract with the federal government must test employees for THC even if marijuana is legalized in South Dakota.

“Employers are scared to death,” Owen said. “Some of them are under a mandate that you have to fire people for THC. You don’t have a choice. If legalization starts eroding that, they’re going to be caught in a terrible cross fire.”

According to a fiscal note from the secretary of state’s office, legalizing marijuana would generate revenue from licensing fees and a new 15% marijuana sales tax. The note estimates a net revenue of about $60.2 million by 2024. 

The Department of Revenue would first cover the costs of implementing the amendment. Fifty percent of the remaining revenue would then be allocated to South Dakota’s public schools, and 50% would go to the state’s general fund.

Social Impacts and South Dakotans

Supporters of the amendment believe that legalizing recreational marijuana would eradicate some dangers of prohibition, like lowering opioid deaths and keeping users safe, Samuelson said.

No Way on A believes that recreational legalization would lead to an increase in youth usage, according to Owen. He said if the amendment passes, more than 600,000 people would have access to marijuana.

“Kids are going to start using it more,” Owen said. “Kids drink. They’re not supposed to drink. Kids smoke. They’re not supposed to. We make pot available, they’ll use it.” 

Sioux Falls resident Mark John Vandersnick said he’s happy to see marijuana reform on the ballot this election. He said even though he can see the pros and cons of the amendment, he’s “excited that South Dakota will even get to vote on something like this.”

Marijuana Reform in the Legislature

According to Owen and No Way on A, the amendment does not belong in the state constitution. He said that if it passes, any changes — such as adjusting the 1 ounce limit or the fine for underage use — would have to be put to a public, statewide vote.

“It sets up mechanics that are too difficult to manage to keep up with the times,” Owen said.

Samuelson said voters should cast their ballots for Amendment A to protect Initiated Measure 26. After the South Dakota Legislature repealed and replaced Initiated Measure 22, a 2016 ballot initiative that called for stricter campaign finance laws, Samuelson said he fears Initiated Measure 26 may meet a similar fate. 

“If we pass measure 26 and don’t pass Amendment A, the Legislature, I can almost guarantee you, will gut or repeal 26,” Samuelson said.

The amendment would give local governments some control by allowing them to ban marijuana cultivators and stores from operating within city limits, according to the secretary of state. Local governments would not be able to prohibit the transportation of marijuana on public roads.

The amendment further requires the Legislature to pass laws concerning a medical marijuana program and the cultivation, processing and sale of hemp by April 11, 2022.

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