South Dakota Officials Clear Marijuana Legalization Campaign To Launch Paid Signature Drive For 2024 Ballot Initiative

January 1, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

South Dakota officials have cleared the way for paid circulators to start collecting signatures for a 2024 marijuana legalization ballot initiative as the activist-led campaign continues to evaluate next steps.

Late last month, the secretary of state’s office approved a circulator handout submitted by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), a requirement that will allow the campaign to deploy paid canvassers to gather signatures along with its existing grassroots network of volunteers who have already been distributing petitions.

The newly approved campaign material simply features the state attorney general’s title and explanation of the ballot measure, which was finalized in August.

Matthew Schweich, director of SDBML, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that the campaign is “starting to pay a small team of circulators to help gather signatures, but we haven’t yet launched the full-scale paid signature drive.”

The effort is “moving in the right direction,” he said, adding that organizers have “a large number of volunteers working across the state,” as well as volunteers based at existing medical marijuana dispensaries and other businesses that are supporting the effort.

“So there’s a strong volunteer operation that’s been gaining steam, and we’re working on raising money—and we’ve made some progress there,” he said. “We don’t want to wait forever to start getting the paid circulating going, so we’re getting started small-scale with the hope that we can ramp it up, especially as the weather improves.”

Ensuring that the campaign has sufficient resources to succeed has been top-of-mind, as Schweich says losing again at the ballot following South Dakota voters’ rejection of a legalization measure in 2022 is “not an option.”

“We’re still not at a point where we can say we have the funds to get on the ballot or run a strong campaign, but we’re continuing to make progress on the fundraising front,” he said. “I remain cautiously optimistic that this campaign can be viable.”

This is the campaign’s third attempt at the ballot. Voters did approve a legalization initiative in 2020, but it later was invalidated by the state Supreme Court over single-subject concerns.

Even if activists do get the funding and secure ballot placement this year, they will still need to win over voters who rejected legalization in the last election.

Ahead of that election, a poll found that 51 percent of South Dakotans planned to vote against the legalization measure, while 40 percent said they’d be supporting it and 10 percent remained undecided. That was the third poll in a row showing the legalization measure behind.

Meanwhile, a separate proposed 2024 legalization ballot measure, sponsored by Rapid City resident Emmett Reistroffer, recently received its final ballot explanation from the state attorney general. That initiative would legalize adult-use possession and cultivation of cannabis, while allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to serve adult consumers. That said, the chief backer of the proposal says he has no plans to collect signatures or campaign for the change.

Separately, opponents of legalization have filed two other proposed ballot measures to tighten drug laws in the state. One would repeal the state’s medical marijuana law, while the other would keep federally banned substances from ever being legalized by voters.

The state attorney general finalized the ballot explanation for the medical marijuana repeal measure in August. But SDBML recently said the initiative should be thrown out due to an alleged error in how the proposal was filed, failing to include a full list of the state statutes it would seek to undo.

After voters approved medical cannabis legalization in 2020, Gov. Kristi Noem (R) tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation for an additional year. But while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, dealing a defeat to the governor.

In response, Noem’s office started exploring a compromise, with one proposal that came out of her administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants that patients could cultivate to three and prohibit people under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.

In the 2022 legislative session, the House rejected a legalization bill that the Senate had passed, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.

A Marijuana Interim Study Committee, headed by legislative leaders, was established to explore cannabis policy reform, and the panel in November 2021 recommended that the legislature take up legalization. The House-defeated legislation was one of the direct products of that recommendation.

Currently more than 11,500 people in South Dakota hold medical marijuana cards—nearly double the 6,000 cardholders that state officials expected to enroll in the program by 2024. (Full Story)

In categories:Legalization Politics
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