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Bill To Legalize Pot Dies in South Dakota Legislature––For Now |

Last week, a South Dakota legislator approved a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. But it was stopped by another hurdle on Monday. 

Advocates are delighted to report that Senate Bill 3 may still be alive. 

This bill sought to preserve a 2020 ballot proposition that had been passed but was later invalidated by the courts. It was unanimously approved last week by the South Dakota state Senate. However, this momentum was short lived.

On Monday, members of the the House State Affairs Committee rejected the bill by a vote of 8-3, although according to local television station KELO, “rumors speculate it could be brought back to life on the House floor later in the week.”

This bill is just one more twist to a long-running saga about legalization in Mount Rushmore State. 

Two measures related to cannabis were passed by voters in 2020: Amendment A (a proposal to amend the state constitution for legalizing recreational marijuana for those 21 years and over, and hemp and medicinal cannabis) and the Initiated measure, which sought only to legalize medicinal cannabis. 

But Amendment A faced resistance from the state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, almost immediately after the ballots were counted.

Noem and two law enforcement officers challenged the amendment. A South Dakota judge decided in their favor in February 2013. In November, a day before Thanksgiving, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that ruling, saying that Amendment A violated the South Dakota Constitution’s “one subject” requirement. 

Senate Bill 3 supporters argued that it was a way for legislators to be ahead of the voters. Advocates are preparing to put a South Dakota recreational marijuana proposal back on the South Dakota ballot this year.

“This is your opportunity to take control of the issue,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Senator David Wheeler, said last week. “This bill is your opportunity to do what the people said they wanted in Amendment A.”

“The train on marijuana is only moving in one direction nationwide,” he added. “It is better for us to get ahead of it.”

However, the bill was always challenged in the state House which, just like the state Senate is dominated by Republicans. 

“That hasn’t been very favorable in the House,” state House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said last week. “I would assume that’s going to have a decently tough path going forward.”

The legislative session is slated to wrap up next week, but the Associated Press reports that advocates of the legalization bill have “vowed to mount a last-ditch effort to resurrect the proposal on the House floor—a move called a smoke out that would require widespread support from House Republicans.”

The vote against Senate Bill 3 wasn’t the only action that the House committee took on cannabis this week. The Argus Leader newspaper, the committee also “advanced a separate measure that repeals portions of the medical marijuana law adopted by voters in 2020.”

The measure would eliminate language in the current medical cannabis law that “allows individuals without certification from the state’s Department of Health who are arrested for small amounts of cannabis to claim what’s known as an ‘affirmative defense’ in front of a judge,” the newspaper reported.

“In other words, marijuana possession charges can be dismissed by a court if a defendant can show they have conditions that qualify them for a medical marijuana card,” the Argus Leader said.