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Petition Deadline Looms For South Dakota Legalization Campaign

The clock is ticking for a group of South Dakota activists to get a legalization proposal on this year’s ballot.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana (the group behind the campaign to put the initiative on the November ballot) stated Wednesday that the petition is still missing more than 3000 signatures.

Deadline to send the South Dakota Secretary Of State petition is May 3.

“Our conservative estimate right now is that we’re at 13,500 valid signatures and we need 17,000 valid signatures,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told local television station KELO.

“We are a little nervous, we are within striking distance of getting enough valid signatures and qualifying for the ballot, but really don’t want to take any chances,” Schweich added.

The campaign is also an effort to avenge last year’s legal rulings that undid Amendment A, the constitutional amendment approved by a majority of South Dakota voters in 2020 that legalized recreational pot use for adults.

The state’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, was vigorously opposed to the amendment from the start, and took the measure to court last year.

A circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying the amendment violated the state’s constitution.

In November, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling, saying Amendment A violated the constitution’s “one subject” requirement for amendments.

Noem celebrated the result, which could make him a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement following the decision. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. Our lives are still guided by the law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

South Dakota voters have not celebrated Noem’s approach to cannabis policy, however.

An opinion poll conducted late last year showed that only 39% of Mount Rushmore State voters approve of how she handles cannabis legalization. While 17.8% of respondents said they disapprove somewhat, 33.4% indicated they disapprove very strongly.

Activists like Schweich hope those numbers––not to mention the passage of Amendment A in 2020––augur well for this November.

However, some South Dakota residents are now less inclined to support the legalization of the past.

“South Dakota is sick of it, we’re all exhausted,” said Melissa Mentele, an activist involved in the legalization campaign, as quoted by KELO. “It’s not the issue people are exhausted with, they’re exhausted with the process of I vote, and it doesn’t matter.”

“That’s the biggest thing that we’re running into. It’s not, I already signed this, it’s, why should I sign this because it doesn’t matter,” Mentele added.

As reported by KELO, “Schweich says this signature drive is to put a statutory initiative on the ballot that is a very simplified, shortened version of Amendment A.”

“I would call it legalization for individuals,” Schweich said, as quoted by the station. “It makes it legal for an adult 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce, to cultivate up to three plants at home and it reduces three personal penalties related to how you grow it.”

Lawmakers in South Dakota attempted to get ahead of the ballot initiative by passing their own legalization bill in this year’s current legislative session, but the effort fizzled out.