PIERRE, S.D. — A more robust campaign supporting the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana in South Dakota may have been key to getting both ballot items passed.
South Dakota on Tuesday, Nov. 3, became the first state in the tri-state region to legalize recreational marijuana.
The recreational constitutional amendment, Amendment A, passed with 200,574 votes in favor, or 53%, to 174,932 opposed, or 47%, according to the South Dakota Secretary of State's website.
The amendment will legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. It also requires the state Legislature to pass laws regarding hemp. The measure legalizes the possession, transportation and distribution of up to an ounce of marijuana to adults 21 and older.
It takes effect July 1.
In an initiated measure on medical marijuana, IM 26, the margin was much greater with 260,795 or 69% of votes in favor and 116,050 or 31% opposed.
Brendan Johnson, former United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota, helped lead the campaigns to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.
Johnson told Forum News Service that he knew of many Republicans that voted in favor of both ballot items.
“I had a lot of people say ‘Don’t tell anyone but yeah, I'm going to vote for this’,” Johnson said.
“And I think a lot of people saw that economic benefit of it as well. Many South Dakotans are tired of it being a criminal offense.”
Amendment A was supported by almost all of South Dakota’s most populous counties, which included Minnehaha, Pennington, Brookings, Brown, Clay, Codington, Hughes, Lake, Lawrence, Lincoln, Meade, Union and Yankton.
Only 49% of Davison County voters approved the amendment.
Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the South Dakota Legislature won’t easily be able to overturn it.
Those in opposition to legalizing marijuana in any capacity raised only $150,000 over the life of the campaign, according to Michael Card, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of South Dakota.
Card said $150,000 can go a long way, but can’t really buy much television advertisement.
“When the pro side is spending $1.5 million, I think that’s part of the real challenge here. The pro side started going much earlier, they had advertisers from the police officer comparing it to the most dramatic controlled substance, which was heroin,” Card said.
“Most people know someone who has consumed marijuana and hasn’t gone into reefer madness. Then you combine that with the number of people who believe that if marijuana produces some return to wellness to people in a medicinal sense, it is really not that bad. That also helped the campaign,” Card said.
The placement of Amendment A on South Dakota’s ballots also may have played a factor in its passing, Card speculated. The recreational amendment was placed higher on the ballot than the medical marijuana measure.
“I know a lot of people who were going to vote for medical marijuana and they confused recreational marijuana for medical marijuana but they didn’t want to go back to get a new ballot because of the lines,” Card said.
Marvel covers South Dakota government and politics news. She can be followed on Twitter at @shannmarvel and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 605-350-8355.