Up in the Air: Marijuana could soon be legal in South Dakota, but Augustana’s plans for the substance remain unclear

After overwhelming support in overturning marijuana laws that were approved by South Dakota voters in the November election, Gov. Kristi Noem delayed both Initiated Measure 26 (IM-26) and Amendment A. The question is, what does this mean for Augustana?

“It is a tough conversation to have,” Mark Blackburn, Dean of Students, said.

In South Dakota, the IM-26 ballot received about 74% of votes in favor of implementing medical marijuana, while the Amendment A ballot received about 51% of votes in support of recreational use. According to Insider, 36 out of 50 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, and 16 out of 50 have overturned recreational use in the United States alone.

According to the safety report, Augustana forbids “the use, possession, distribution, or sale of drugs (i.e. hallucinogens, narcotics, stimulants, and depressants).” This also includes “the possession of drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs and pipes.”

Rick Tupper, the associate vice president for Campus Safety and logistics, said anytime a student is found with possession of either drug paraphernalia or marijuana, campus officials notify the Sioux Falls Police Department, and they treat the situation as a criminal offense.

Now, almost six months after the ballot was cast, South Dakota will be legalizing medical marijuana use. After meetings between Noem and the South Dakota Legislature, it was announced that IM-26 will go into effect July 1, 2021. 

This law will permit the use and sale of medical marijuana among individuals who have a proven health ailment. At this moment in time, both possession and use of marijuana are still illegal within the state until July 1. 

“I don’t see it [medical marijuana] any different as taking tylenol or a controlled substance,” junior Cassidy Waggoner said.

Implementation of recreational marijuana remains unclear at this point. On February 8, 2021, Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger ruled that Amendment A as written violates South Dakota’s single subject rule, which calls for certain types of legislation to deal with only one main issue. The case moved to the South Dakota Supreme court, which heard final arguments on Wednesday April 28, but has not given the final verdict. 

As of right now, Augustana policies have not been changed or adjusted for any form of marijuana use.

“We are taking it one day at a time,” Blackburn said.

He said the Dean of Students office and campus officials are “working together to provide a safe environment for our faculty, staff and students.” In the near future, if students need to use a medical form of marijuana on campus they will take specific measures for each student. 

“We will make modifications for that particular student on a case by case basis,” Blackburn said.

If certain students wish to use medical marijuana, there will also need to be “adequate documentation” provided to campus officials, Blackburn said.

According to Tupper, once marijuana becomes legal on campus, it then becomes a judicial action. This means that if a student were to break the updated marijuana policies within the Code of Student Conduct in the future, Augustana has the right to investigate and to enact further consequences. 

Most students interviewed for this story did not oppose medical marijauana; they did have certain concerns and expectations.

“If there are designated locations, I would be in favor of people using marijuana if they choose,” sophomore Jakota Hernandez said. 

The odor of marijuana appears to be the biggest concern among students. 

“I’d prefer there to be smoking areas,” sophomore Sean Boland said. “It is really just the smell. I don’t have a problem with weed by any means.”

According to senior and ASA president Cole Tessendorf there are a lot of misconceptions of what medical marijuana is. 

“People assume, ‘Oh, I’m going to do medical marijuana, I’m just going to be smoking it in my room’ because that is what we see in movies,” Tessendorf said. “But that is not realistically what medical marijuana looks like.”

However, the controversy surrounding Amendment A means that South Dakota residents won’t know the court’s determination for a few more weeks.

“I was pretty disappointed to see that South Dakota overturned that [recreational use],” Tessendorf said. “South Dakota doesn’t have to be last to everything.” 

If recreational use is implemented in South Dakota, the university will have to review and update its campus policies to adjust for this.

According to Augustana President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the university needs to start with its alcohol policy before looking at marijuana. 

“Let’s start there, and then maybe it’ll allow us for some pathways and integration into a related policy depending on what is ultimately deemed as permissible and legal,” Herseth Sandlin said.

She said that before COVID-19, the alcohol policy was “going to get put under the microscope to evaluate whether or not that policy needed to be changed.” She said that she would like to sit down soon with the newly elected ASA president and vice president to talk about a task force for re-evaluating alcohol on campus.

However, some students think Augustana needs to do more than adjusting the alcohol policy. 

“If the state laws change, I think that Augie is going to have to find a middle ground that is actually impactful and not just like the dry campus policies that we have now,” senior Taylor Beagle said. “That is just a label.”

 She said just because Augustana has policies for things, such as dry campus, doesn’t mean that alcoholic occurrences don’t happen here. If there are going to be restrictions on marijuana, they need to be impactful ones, Beagle said. 

According to Tupper, in 2020, there were 14 counts of marijuana cases during Augustana’s academic year, and in 2019, there were 18. These numbers do not include arrests. 

“Usually every year we have two to four cases that get turned over to the police department,” Tupper said. “Otherwise, the majority of the cases [found are due to] the odor of marijuana.”

According to Medical News Today, states that already legalized recreational use of marijuana have seen a decrease in binge drinking among individuals 21 and over. However, this finding may be contradicting as other studies have found that marijuana use can cause people to be more reliant on other substances. 

“You are not going to stop someone from breaking the rules,” Tessendorf said. “Students who want to use marijuana are already using it. […] There are ways to keep university students safe. I don’t see why we should not allow them to get the safest type.”

Augustana will further determine what the marijuana policies will be on campus based on the state’s rulings. 

Noah Wicks contributed to this report.

  1. Listen to this discussion on Willette Caper’s podcast about how this decision may intersect with Augustana’s policy. https://open.spotify.com/episode/4OypMb1VQaaaPFGtNZBfFx?si=b34502a398154cc1

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