BROOKINGS — It may seem like deja vu for South Dakota voters this year as they will once again be deciding whether or not they want the state to allow recreational marijuana.
Initiated Measure 27 is a scaled-down version of the Amendment A that voters approved in the last election. Despite finding favor with voters, the amendment was challenged in court and defeated. That scenario still rubs Matthew Schweich the wrong way. He’s the campaign manager for Yes on 27 for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.
It’s not the Supreme Court’s ruling that rankles Schweich so much as the timing. The court got the case on April 28, 2021, and didn’t make its ruling until the day before Thanksgiving 2021.
“The worst part of the Amendment A case as the South Dakota Supreme Court took so long and deprived us of guidance as to how we should draft our 2022 initiative,” Schweich said. “I think that was a pathetically shameful act. It was an attack on the initiative process, that delay.”
Schweich describes Initiated Measure 27 as a shorter, simpler version of Amendment A. It allows for the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana by people over age 21, the possession of a limited number of plants for home growing and sets civil penalties for the violation of marijuana-related restrictions.
Unlike Amendment A, Initiated Measure 27 does not include the regulation and licensing of retail outlets or a formula for the taxation of marijuana sales.
No matter how the measure is written, Jim Kinyon thinks it’s a bad idea. He is the chairman of Protecting South Dakota Kids which opposes IM27. Kinyon notes that South Dakota voters turned down chances to legalize recreational marijuana in 2006 and 2010.
In the 2020 election “they spent millions of dollars to confuse and make it unclear what they’re doing and what their intention is,” Kinyon said. “All I need is a handkerchief and I think I can wipe enough lipstick off this pig.”
Schweich said most IM27 supporters are concerned about how arrests for violating marijuana laws can disrupt or ruin lives. He said legalizing cannabis will free up law enforcement and the courts to work on other crimes while ensuring that patients who need medical marijuana can get it without fear of arrest.
“Not everybody that’s got a legitimate need for medical cannabis is able to get a card right now,” Schweich said. “By passing Measure 27, we’ll eliminate the threat of arrest for all medical cannabis patients in South Dakota over the age of 21.”
According to Kinyon, emphasizing the fear of arrest is a scare tactic. “Has anyone talked to their sheriff or their local police department or their judges?” Kinyon asked. “We don’t lock up anyone in the state of South Dakota for an ounce of marijuana.”
Regulating the retail sale of marijuana and the taxation that accompanies it will likely be something considered in the next session of the Legislature, Schweich said. If the Legislature fails to act, he said he’ll be back with another initiated measure in 2024.
Kinyon points to the initiated measure’s rules about home-grown plants and asserts that retail outlets will be in South Dakota sooner rather than later. The measure says that home-grown plants are allowed in those communities that don’t allow for retail sales.
“Clearly some of our convenience stores and some of our local businesses plan on peddling this product,” Kinyon said. “You’ll find people who are willing to crap in their own nest for their profit. By and large, most South Dakotans are better than that.”
Both Schweich and Kinyon wrote “pro” and “con” articles about the initiated measure for the Secretary of State’s 2022 Ballot Question brochure. The “pro” article cites “public health reports analyzing tens of thousands of high school students in Colorado and Washington show that teen cannabis use did not increase after those states legalized cannabis for adults in 2012. National studies and research in other states have found similar results.”
Kinyon has statistics of his own, citing South Dakota as having the 47th lowest marijuana usage rate of any state in the nation. Kinyon said the top 10 states in that have the highest concentrations of marijuana usage by children ages 12 to 18 are all the states that have approved recreational marijuana.
“They pretend they aren’t targeting our kids,” Kinyon said. “That’s a joke. There’s not a single thing we can do in the state of South Dakota that will double the use rate of marijuana other than pass this bill.”
Both men talked about homelessness in Denver, Colorado, a state that has legalized recreational marijuana. Denver has had a homeless problem for years, Schweich said, with the number of homeless fluctuating largely based on changes in the economy. “The idea that they legalize cannabis in Denver and all of a sudden it became a Mecca for homeless people is just a myth,” Schweich said.
During his talks to groups, Kinyon has a slide he presents of a tent city in a Denver park. “Camping has changed in Colorado a little bit,” he tells them, noting that downtown Denver reeks of marijuana. “We don’t need the doobie smokers so that every time you walk in or out of our hotels and our restaurants they’re all smoking and blowing smoke on your kids as you walk through. Denver literally stinks downtown.”
For some, that could be the smell of money. Schweich said marijuana legalization could lead to new industry, new jobs and new investments. “This is new sources of revenue,” Schweich said. “This is new clients. A whole host of businesses in South Dakota have an opportunity to benefit from this.”
Election Day in South Dakota is Tuesday, Nov. 8. Early voting starts on Friday, Sept. 23.
At this point, both men see their side prevailing in the election. Schweich looks ahead to a day when marijuana sales are regulated and taxed. “This is a big win for South Dakota’s economy,” Schweich said. “There’s a lot of tax revenue that’s going to be generated. So from a fiscal, economic perspective, this is definitely a winner for the state.”
It’s safety, rather than the economy, that spurs Kinyon who notes that mental health facilities and services in the state are maxed out.
“We’re in a mental health crisis,” Kinyon said. “Cutting loose this drug — which is associated with depression, psychotic symptoms and suicide for adolescents and young adults — is the last thing we need to do.”