Will South Dakota’s recreational marijuana plans go up in smoke?

The constitutional amendment ballot measure that was passed in November is being challenged in court, but if the decision is upheld, area legislators expect it to be the most-discussed topic for this Legislative session, which opens Tuesday in Pierre. Gov. Kristi Noem will give her State of the State address at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The district’s three Republicans -- Sen. Josh Klumb, Reps. Lance Koth and Paul Miskimins -- said they’ve been looking at other states and have tried to develop an understanding of the topic should the two Legislative bodies be asked to write up regulations.

Koth described his view on the marijuana issue as “being at 10,000 feet,” and admitting that he doesn’t yet know everything there is to understand about recreational marijuana. But from his time researching what other states have done, he said he’s inclined to have the state’s legislation open on the side of overregulating marijuana, rather than underregulating and running into issues.

“There are so many unknowns,” Koth said. “I have been conference calls with industry and people in construction, over-the-road trucking, positions where they’re doing services that really require attentive qualified employees. And they’re concerned, because they don’t understand what affects marjiuana in (the employees’) system might have on operating heavy duty equipment.”

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Koth said that at this point, he favors taking whatever tax revenue comes from marijuana sales in the state and putting them in a trust fund and then making only the annual earnings from that fund for the state’s budget.

“That’s because I’m not sure if there are other issues out there that might surface that we might need additional funds for due to marijuana becoming lawful,” Koth said.

Klumb, who was an opponent of the ballot measure, begins his third two-year term in the Senate this year said the discussion about recreational and medical marijuana will “dominate a lot of the time in Pierre” this year. South Dakota was the first state to pass both issues on the same ballot in the same year, with medical marijuana passing with almost 70% support and recreational marijuana passing with 54.2% of the vote.

“If it’s the will of the people, our job is to make good regulations to support the rules,” Miskimins said.

Miskimins said his issue is not specifically with the vote, but that recreational marijuana shouldn’t be written into the state’s constitution. He said legal challenges about the amendment should have probably been rectified before voters marked their ballots in November.

“It got put into the wrong area where it’s in the constitution and it’s a serious mistake, really. We don’t have the legalization of alcohol in the constitution and marijuana shouldn’t be placed there either. It should be written in law like everything else.”

As of now, both measures will be legal on July 1.

“We will need the proper pathways, if we have to implement that,” Klumb said. “It’s still a federally illegal substance, so we’re going to be looking at what other states have done and what they have done right and what hasn’t worked.”

Klumb said that the fear of the discussion on recreational marijuana was one of the reasons he pushed the industrial hemp legislation in recent years.

“I think we’re going to find ourselves with a bunch of problems, and the problems that come with it won’t be worth the headaches,” he said.

Priorities for the session

Koth enters his third session in the legislature, but it will be the first he’s not on the all-important Appropriations Committee, which holds much of the control on doling out the state’s money. His committee assignments will include House Taxation and Transportation, but he said he plans to continue to closely watch how the state’s money is spent and the budget, given he was a banker prior to retirement.

“It was probably more in my wheelhouse,” Koth said. “But we had new leadership and they decided to move the committee in a new direction and that’s what leadership can do. I’m OK with that because there are other ways I can get things done. I will still watch the state numbers real close.”

The legislators will be closely watching how the plan to spend $200 million in one-time surplus funds unfolds.

“Everyone has their projects,” Klumb said. “Some have more merit for more spending than others.”

Klumb said some of his priorities would include allocating funds to county and township roads, helping support Noem’s desire to provide funding to small-town meat lockers and help get funding for Mitchell Technical College’s desired precision agriculture facility.

Miskimins said he’s satisfied with how the state has handled the coronavirus, but said he views the issue with respect for those who have contracted COVID-19 and to mourn those who have died from the disease.

“Nobody here has ever been through a pandemic of this nature,” he said. “Those losses need to be never forgotten. … Compared to other states, we’re in a better state. Because we’re required to balance the budget, we get these federal funds and they come in and they become an excess and we will decide on how to spend those funds.”

Miskimins said there are some other impactful statewide projects he’s excited about, including the plans for a bioprocessing center at South Dakota State University, where the public-private partnership could help drive new products and inventions. The same with the state’s efforts to prepare for and attract the arrival of the U.S. Air Force’s B21 bomber at Ellsworth Air Force Base, which is expected to have a $1 billion impact.

“We have a handful of bills -- the hemp bills and the marijuana, and vaccinations and transgender -- that attract a lot of attention and get a lot of press and they’re somewhat sensational,” Miskimins said. “And we have much of the legislative business that’s not nearly as noteworthy but it’s just as important. I’m really looking forward to a positive session because there’s a lot to work on.”

Klumb will serve on three Senate committees this year: Ag and Natural Resources, Local Government and Taxation, with the latter two being new assignments for him. In the House, Miskimins will serve on the Education and Health/Human Services committees.