PIERRE, S.D. — Almost nine months after a judge struck down South Dakota's adult marijuana constitutional measure approved by a majority of the voters, it's looking more like lawmakers will bring a bill to legalize recreational marijuana to the 2022 -- though passage is still a longshot.
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, a subcommittee of the larger summer study of marijuana issues voted 8-2 to sending a draft bill forward to the broader committee. That bill would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, do away with the state's medical marijuana program in most instances, and outlaw outdoor cultivation of marijuana.
Many of the provisions mirror what voters approved in Amendment A, which legalized cannabis for recreational purposes with support from 56% of the state's voters last November. That measure, however, was blocked by a circuit judge in Pierre and is awaiting a decision from the South Dakota State Supreme Court.
The package approved on Tuesday, which was debated over the summer and early fall by the committee, also falls short of Amendment A's promises, including affording home grow options, and it drew bittersweet support from two of the legalization efforts' biggest proponents: Sens. Mike Rohl, R-Aberdeen, and David Wheeler, R-Huron.
"I cannot put my vote behind repealing [Initiated Measure 26] until the will of the voters is upheld," Wheeler said. "We have a long ways to go till this is a final product."
Among the thorniest debates came late in an hours-long committee hearing Tuesday, when the committee voted to approve repealing Initiated Measure 26, a separate ballot measure approved by 70% of state voters that legalized medical marijuana and went into effect this July.
Some lawmakers supporting the repeal said it'd be necessary to avoid creating duplicate bureaucracies overseeing medical and adult marijuana programs in the state. But Wheeler and Rohl want assurances that certain rights currently afforded under IM 26 would be guaranteed in the new program.
Acknowledging the "interesting debate," Rep. Tim Goodwin, R-Rapid City, said some committee members' reluctance to put forward a bill altogether ceased being an option when law enforcement officials this summer put forward guidance that certain individuals possessing less than 3 ounces of marijuana would be sparred arrest.
"It's already legal on the streets folks," said Goodwin. "Why do we want to have two bureaucracies here?"
The proposed legislation will now go for debate and, likely, further development to the summer study committee. If the committee can support a bill, that legislation would emerge in January in Pierre -- though it'd face almost certainly a veto threat from Gov. Kristi Noem.
Near the conclusion of Tuesday's meeting, committee chair Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, observed that any bill would be unnecessary if the state Supreme Court upholds Amendment A's constitutionality. Although it's difficult to make predictions, he said.
"I don't think that falls under the sports betting book in Deadwood," said Bartels.