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South Dakota Lawmakers Advance Legalization Bill

The bill that would legalize adult recreational marijuana was approved by the South Dakota Senate last week. It passed with just one vote. Advocates who have been fighting with the state over the past two years for legal pot sales and prohibition would be able to see some relief in this legislation. 

Amendment A was approved by 54 percent of South Dakotans in 2020. It would have allowed recreational and medical marijuana to be legalized within the state. The same year, a greater majority of South Dakota voters approved Amendment A. This would have legalized recreational marijuana in addition to hemp and medicinal cannabis.

However, it proved to be doomed as Republican Governor KristiNoem launched a legal challenge against this amendment.

In February of last year, a circuit court judge in South Dakota ruled in Noem’s favor, saying that Amendment A violated the state’s constitution and could not become law.  

Months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, the state’s Supreme Court upheld that lower court ruling on the grounds that the amendment ran afoul of the constitution’s “one subject” requirement.

Advocates stated in fall that they planned to place another legalization proposal onto the 2022 election ballot. That was an encouragement for the GOP-controlled Senate of the state to continue with its measure. 

“This is your opportunity to take control of the issue,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Senator David Wheeler, as quoted by the Associated Press. “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.”

On Wednesday, the bill passed by the state Senate would have allowed adults 21 years and over to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Additionally on Wednesday, legislators in the chamber passed a number of bills “to set up retail licenses in the same way it licenses liquor establishments as well as automatically remove from background check records misdemeanors and petty offenses for pot ingestion or possession that are more than five years old,” according to the Associated Press.

Although the bill was passed by the state Senate it faces difficult and lengthy road ahead to final approval. 

The leaders of the state House of Representatives where Republicans have a large majority have said that they expect stiff resistance from their members.

“That hasn’t been very favorable in the House,” state House Majority Leader Kent Peterson said on Thursday, as quoted by local television station KELO. “I would assume that’s going to have a decently tough path going forward.”

And then there’s Noem, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate who has long been vocal in her opposition to recreational pot legalization. 

At a press conference on Wednesday, the governor didn’t say if she would veto the bill should it land on her desk, but reiterated that she is against recreational pot use.

“I haven’t seen anybody get smarter from smoking dope,” Noem said, as quoted by Dakota News Now.

A poll late last year found that a little more than half of South Dakota voters disapprove of Noem’s handling of cannabis legalization.