South Dakota Governor Who Opposed Cannabis Legalization Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Ad on Cannabis Legalization
SD Department of Health

South Dakota Governor Who Opposed Cannabis Legalization Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Fund Ad on Cannabis Legalization

Gov. Kristi Noem aired the medical cannabis advertisement through a pair of contractual funding amendments worth $322,500.

October 19, 2021

After a failed attempt to delay South Dakota’s voter-approved medical cannabis program, Gov. Kristi Noem used taxpayer dollars to advertise that she’s “100 percent committed” to the program.

The 60-second advertisement, which ran June through September, featured the Republican governor in a public-service announcement setting.

Noem, who campaigned against the voter-approved ballot measure last year, and then unsuccessfully advocated for the South Dakota Legislature to amend and delay implementing the program, offered a different tone in the taxpayer-funded advertisement.

“The medical cannabis program is on schedule,” she said. “And we’re working to implement a responsible program that follows the direction given by the voters. … I’ve heard from people who are hurting and are hopeful for relief. I can assure them that we are working hard to streamline the process to get medical cards out to people. And my team is 100 percent committed to starting this program as quickly and as responsibly as possible for South Dakota.”

The ad was funded through $322,500 of amendments to the state Department of Health’s contract with Imagine Agency LLC, of Rapid City, as first reported by KELOLAND Media Group.

The one-year contract that was issued June 1, 2021, was originally for Imagine Agency to design, plan and execute South Dakota’s Opioid Abuse and Misuse Prevention Plan communications and marketing for $375,000, which was funded through a federal grant.

That contract was amended twice—adding $180,000 and then $142,500—to cover “medical cannabis,” with the $322,500 total coming out of the state’s general fund. The medical cannabis provisions of the Imagine Agency contract also included social media posts and tracking, Department of Health spokesman Daniel Bucheli told KELOLAND.

Bucheli said Senate Bill 35 was the source of the funding for the medical cannabis ads. The Legislature passed S.B. 35 in March, appropriating $4,161,605 to the departments of Revenue and Health for the purposes of implementing provisions contained in the adult-use and medical cannabis ballot measures passed by voters, by 54% and 70%, respectively, during the 2020 general election.

In February, before S.B. 35 passed, Noem said it was her intention to delay implementing Initiative Measure 26 a full year—to July 1, 2022. She worked with House leaders to amend the voter-approved medical cannabis measure through House Bill 1100, legislation that died in March after Senate leaders deviated from Noem’s plan.

In turn, medical cannabis was legalized July 1, 2021, with no changes to the statutes passed under voter-approved I.M. 26—allowing qualified patients or designated caregivers to possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis or three cannabis plants.

But South Dakota has until Oct. 29 to finalize the program framework. Specifically, the Department of Health must promulgate rules necessary to implement the program and must begin issuing cards no later than Nov. 18.

“Throughout the rules and the public input process, the departments of Education and Health have been careful in their approach,” Noem said in the taxpayer-funded advertisement. “Other states have made mistakes that we do not want to repeat. I want South Dakota to have the best, the most patient-focused medical cannabis program in the country.”

While she opposed I.M. 26, Noem said she would support federal medical cannabis legalization if it first receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration.