Will the South Dakota legislature advance a recreational marijuana legalization bill?

State lawmakers on the Senate Health and Human Services committee voted Thursday to put a recreational marijuana legalization bill on the Senate floor. However, the future of the bill is uncertain.
The South Dakota State Senate's Commerce and Energy committee passed a bill to the full Senate that would legalize recreational marijuana.
Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 8:14 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - Roughly three months after the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that Amendment A was unconstitutional, a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota is beginning to make it’s way through the state legislature.

SB 3, “provide(s) for the use and regulated sale of marijuana,” and passed through the Senate’s Commerce and Energy committee Thursday by a narrow vote of 5 to 3.

The proposal, which was originally brought about by the Interim Marijuana Committee that met over the summer, is being sponsored by State Sen. Michael Rohl (R-Aberdeen).

Rohl told lawmakers on the committee that pro-marijuana activists were willing to make concessions, and that they could possibly get on board with SB 3.

“This bill does not allow home-grow in any capacity,” Rohl said. “That idea did not find favor with the whole summer committee. The measure that is brought this fall by petitioners, that is going to be on the ballot includes home-grow.”

That would make South Dakota only one of two states in the country with legal, adult-use cannabis that does not allow home-grow marijuana for recreational purposes. The other state, Illinois, fines violators of that law $200 a plant.

If SB 3 were enacted as is, illegally home-growing recreational marijuana would be a felony.

However, the decision to leave legal home-grown marijuana out of the bill could prove to make negotiations easier down the line. Home-grown marijuana has been one of the main concerns brought up by marijuana legalization opponents. There have been several efforts to restrict the home-grow component of the medical marijuana program, none of which have been successful.

But the concession would also be a major compromise for the pro-cannabis camp, should they decided to make it.

“We are not absolutists, we are people who believe in finding compromise and making progress,” said Matthew Schweich, Director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. “So yes, we are open to ending our signature drive and not putting our initiative on the ballot in November if a good law can be passed.”

In general, the bill currently before the legislature would create some of the strictest legal recreational marijuana laws in the country.

But avoiding further costs associated with law enforcement for marijuana crimes should also have lawmakers excited about the bill, Rohl said.

“If we were to pass SB 3, we would stop arresting people on July 1st of this year,” Rohl explained. “Although it wouldn’t be recreationally available for sale until the following year. Where if we wait to take ballot initiative, the setup dates would be the exact same, except we would still continue to prosecute people starting July 1st of this year through June 30th of next year.”

“For example, if we wait for the ballot measure, you could be arrested on June 30th, 2023, and then on July 1st, 2023, you could walk into a dispensary and buy it,” Rohl said.

The bill will head to the Senate floor by Wednesday of next week. If it were able to pass both chambers of the legislature, it would likely require a two-thirds majority in each chamber to avoid a veto from Governor Kristi Noem.

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