PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's statehouse champions itself as an efficient handler of the people's business — except, perhaps, where marijuana is concerned.
On Wednesday, Feb. 10, House Speaker Spencer Gosch sat at a committee table, calling for a one-year extension on voters' demand to legalize medical marijuana. He said the state government needs more time.
And also a new committee.
"I think it's pretty prevalent that the people have spoken," said Gosch. "And we have a job to do. A big job to do."
Thus a bad week in Pierre for supporters of recreational and medicinal cannabis in the Rushmore State, got a little worse.
Three months after over two-thirds (68%) of voters approved a medicinal marijuana program, South Dakota's lawmakers and Gov. Kristi Noem, who has opined in press conferences that "nobody got smarter smoking pot," have filled in the details on House Bill 1100, asking for a whole year extension on IM 26's effective date, from July 1, 2021, to July 1, 2022.
More practically speaking, under the proposal, which would create a committee to "recommend" the program's implementation, South Dakotans wouldn't be able to receive registration cards from the Department of Health allowing them to possess 3 ounces of marijuana for medicinal use until November 2022, a week or more after the next gubernatorial election in the state.
This news comes just days after a county circuit judge down the street from the capitol in Pierre issued a seismic written ruling overturning Amendment A — which legalized recreational marijuana and was approved by 54% of South Dakota voters — for having "far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota's governmental system."
Hughes County Judge Christina Klinger's ruling, which sounded almost verbatim to what attorneys representing a county sheriff and state's highway patrol leader had argued in her courtroom weeks earlier, spells a troubling pattern of the people's will being overturned in court, said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith.
"How disappointing for the families that are relying on the relief that this bill brings," Rep. Smith, a Sioux Falls Democrat, told Forum News Service in an interview on Wednesday. "Right now there are probably families in our state that are making decisions to actually do something illegal because they care so much for their child...or a loved one or a grandparent."
Notably, HB 1100 blames the one-year delay for medicinal marijuana's implementation on COVID-19, saying DOH has been "using every available resource at its disposal to fight" the global pandemic and citing an ongoing emergency measure impacting every county in the state.
Wednesday's amendment brought by Gosch, the Glenham Republican, says the 8-month time frame established by IM 26 "is insufficient to successfully launch a reliable, stable, and prudent medical marijuana program."
IM 26's organizers called the delay "disrespectful" and encouraged voters to contact their legislators.
"The legislature does not need to change Measure 26 — we wrote a complete policy," said Melissa Mentele, Executive Director of New Approach South Dakota. "All they need to do is respect the will of the people."
At voters' behest in November, South Dakota became the 36th state to approve a medical marijuana program, legalizing 3 ounces and the growth of marijuana for cultivation. Residents would need to apply for registration cards from DOH.
Gosch's measure, however, stipulates IM 26 left a wide variety of details unknown, ranging from how medical marijuana should be taxed to determining which "debilitating medical conditions" would presume eligibility for a card.
The measure also acknowledges the court delay with IM 26's sister measure, Amendment A.
"The implementation, administration, and regulation of a medical marijuana program would be significantly impacted by the final outcome of the Amendment A litigation," read Gosch's amendment.
After brief remarks from the House Speaker, the House State Affairs committee adopted the amendment into HB 1100 and deferred a vote on the bill until a later day.
Attorneys representing Amendment A told Forum News Service they intend to appeal Judge Klinger's ruling, setting up a long-anticipated showdown at a state supreme court, where two-of-five justices on the bench have been appointed by Noem.
Smith said the fight on recreational pot is not yet over.
"There is a very good argument, I believe, to be made in front of the Supreme Court that there is one overlying theme of all this, and it's cannabis," said Smith.