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South Dakota voters reject recreational marijuana ballot measure

The measure would legalize the 'possession, use, and distribution' of up to one ounce of marijuana in the state.

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In this file photo, Matthew Schweich speaks to a group of voters in Mitchell about the benefits of passing Initiated Measure 27.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The opposition to an effort to legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota on the ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 8 has been successful.

As of 11 a.m Wednesday, with a large majority of the votes counted, South Dakotans opposed Initiated Measure 27 by a margin of 52.8% to 47.2%.

"South Dakotans came together as a statewide, non-partisan, grass-roots movement to send a resounding no to the recreational marijuana lobby and yes to protecting our families and our state.," Jim Kinyon, who led Protecting South Dakota Kids, the committee opposing the measure, wrote in a statement declaring victory on Nov. 9.

If approved, the ballot measure would have allowed the “possession, use, and distribution” of up to one ounce of marijuana in the state.

Matthew Schweich, who led South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the committee guiding the proponents of the measure, took issue with what he saw as a misleading message by the opposition.

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“We share the belief that it's not good for teenagers to use cannabis. Where we differ is the approach,” said Schweich. “They want to use a policy for prohibition that is clearly an abject failure.”

“There is not one thing that the state of South Dakota could do to double our youth rate of marijuana other than passing this bill,” said Jim Kinyon, the committee’s president, pointing to higher rates of youth use in legal states compared to South Dakota.

Opponents of the measure include the mayors of Rapid City and Sioux Falls, as well as several members of law enforcement. At news conferences in the two cities, these officials warned of the potential harm to public safety from passing the measure.

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Jim Kinyon, the head of the opposition to Initiated Measure 27, which would legalize cannabis for adult use in the state.
Courtesy Jim Kinyon

On the public safety front, proponents point to a misleading framing of violent crime statistics during the opposition’s news conferences, which included a graphic that blamed violent crime rates in Arkansas and New Mexico on recreational marijuana. The former has not legalized the substance and the latter only legalized it in 2021.

Schweich’s group says other benefits of passing the bill include getting help to potential medical patients at the mercy of a still-slow rollout two years into the state’s medical cannabis program and the potential of freeing up law enforcement resources.

The fiscal projection from the nonpartisan Legislative Research Council estimates that there “would be decreased expenses … due to decreased incarceration from the nullification of some marijuana-related laws, but the decrease in expenses is projected to be negligible.”

Initiated Measure 27 is the second time South Dakota voters are considering the question of adult-use cannabis. However, it will be the first time that question is on the ballot alone.

In 2020, Initiated Amendment A, which included provisions for recreational cannabis, medical cannabis and the sale of hemp, passed with 54% of the vote.

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About one year later, the South Dakota Supreme Court struck down the measure for violating the so-called “one subject rule,” a law passed by the state Legislature in 2018 that required voter referendums to deal with a single item.

Gov. Kristi Noem, who was behind part of that legal challenge, said she would implement the will of the voters if Initiated Measure 27 passes.

During the race for Amendment A, the proponents, propped up by a large influx of dollars from national organizations, spent about six times more than opponents. This year, that source of cash appears to have dried up, and the two sides have raised similar amounts.

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Gov. Kristi Noem will kick off her second term and unofficially begin the 2023 legislative session with her budget address. Here are five things to watch as she unveils her budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2022MARIJUANA
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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