South Dakota Makes History by Passing Both Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis on Same Ballot

South Dakotans now have a constitutional right to cannabis consumption and to hemp farming.

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Editor's note: Election results reported are projected, and subject to change. CBT/CD will update its election coverage as necessary to accommodate changing election results.

Voters in South Dakota made history on Nov. 3, helping the state become the first in the union to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing adult-use cannabis sales without first having an established medical program.

Amendment A, the constitutional amendment that voters passed on election night with 53.4% of the vote with 95% of precincts reporting, per the Associated Press, legalizes the recreational use of cannabis for adults aged 21 and over and allows the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis per adult. Additionally, the law requires that the state legislature pass laws for a medical cannabis program and for hemp sales no later than April 1, 2022.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) was heavily involved in supporting both ballot measures (Measure 26, the medical cannabis program ballot measure, also passed with 69.2% support). Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the MPP, said in a statement: “South Dakota has made history by becoming the first state to legalize medical marijuana and legalize marijuana for adults on the same day. Furthermore, it is arguably the most conservative state yet to enact marijuana legalization. This victory has added significance at the federal level with top-ranking Republican Senator John Thune now representing a legalization state.”

“What we really support is that it creates two distinct pathways to a shared goal, and it keeps those two pathways separate so that our medical program for our patients will always be there. It will never get absorbed by the adult-use and it puts both of them into the constitution,” Melissa Mentele, executive director of New Approach South Dakota told CBT in August of the medical provisions in Amendment A.

Under the constitutional amendment, municipalities can ban cultivation businesses from operating on its territory, as well as testing facilities, wholesalers, and retail operations. However, if an individual lives in a jurisdiction with no licensed retailers, that person can cultivate up to three plants in a locked space in a private residence.

The amendment also puts into place a 15% excise tax on cannabis sales to consumers. That revenue is to be used to cover the costs of launching and maintaining the amendment, with 50% of the remaining revenue going to the state’s public schools and 50% going into the state’s general fund.

Morgan Fox, media relations director and committee manager for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), also said in a statement, “South Dakota made history today by becoming the first state to approve a measure regulating cannabis for adults without a preexisting regulated medical cannabis program already in place. Voters should be commended for leading with their hearts and common sense. We encourage the few states where cannabis is still not legal for any purpose to follow South Dakota's lead and stop punishing responsible adults and seriously ill patients for cannabis, and to providing safe, regulated, and legal methods to obtain it.”

NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement: “No state has ever moved from marijuana prohibition to allowing both medical use and adult-use access, quite literally, overnight. These votes are a stunning rebuke to those elected officials that for decades have refused to move forward with substantive marijuana law reform legislation, and they are yet another indication of the near-universal popularity of these policy changes among voters in all regions of the United States.”

History in the Making

South Dakota became the first state to place both medical and adult-use measures on the same ballot, as CBT reported in January. With help from MPP, both campaigns coordinated efforts to support one another. At the time, Schweich told CBT that South Dakotans should vote for both ballot initiatives.

“Hopefully, we will pass both initiatives with strong margins and those strong winning margins can serve as a mandate from the people, a message to the legislature that these policies should be implemented in a timely manner,” Schweich told CBT in January. That message stuck, based on the results.

MPP has generally avoided allocating resources toward legislative lobbying in South Dakota, however, as it has proved challenging to get any meaningful bills passed through the legislature.

“Last year, the legislature passed a hemp law and the governor vetoed it,” Schweich said in January. “If they can’t get a hemp law passed, it’s very unlikely that they can get a medical marijuana or adult-use legalization law passed through that legislature, which is conservative and overwhelmingly controlled by the Republican party. So, really, to make progress in South Dakota, a ballot initiative is our only recourse.”

Today, the initiatives' passage means that both medical and adult-use cannabis now are enshrined in The Mount Rushmore State’s constitution.

Additional reporting by Melissa Schiller

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