When it comes to the legalization of medical marijuana in South Dakota, Yankton leaders are doing the only thing they can do right now.
They’re making plans because there are no real plans in place.
They’re coming up with contingencies because the contingencies haven’t been addressed at the state level.
They’re sifting through details that could eventually change in any number of ways.
They’re getting ready for July 1 — when medical marijuana officially becomes legal — because, frankly, they have to be ready when this his law hits the books.
This was the basis of a work session Yankton city commissioners held last week. It was the second such session the commission has held on the general topic of legalized marijuana.
Medical marijuana is another matter. It was legalized last November when South Dakota voters overwhelming passed Initiated Measure 26 (IM 26). It called for the state to be ready for legalization by July 1, 2021, although the actual prescription and distribution of medicinal pot likely won’t happen until early 2022. Nevertheless, July 1 is the day that South Dakotans expect the wheels to start turning in this process.
But state lawmakers seemingly did very little with either marijuana issue during the session, at least early on. According to a South Dakota News Watch story this past winter, very few bills regarding marijuana were filed in the early weeks of the session, which was surprising given the huge changes and legal demands promised by both IM 26 and Constitutional Amendment A, which legalized recreational marijuana; both were approved by voters last November.
Perhaps — and this is only a guess based on appearances — that lack of urgency indicated that lawmakers knew barriers were going to be thrown up to prevent or considerably slow pot legalization, in whatever form, in this state. The governor opposed both measures and basically backed the legal effort to scuttle recreational marijuana. Reading those signals, one possibility is that lawmakers felt they saw the writing on the wall on these issues.
While recreational marijuana remains in limbo, Gov. Kristi Noem’s efforts to delay medicinal marijuana by one year — claiming the state needed more time to get ready, even though other states have been able to make it work in a matter of months — fell apart as lawmakers cited the overwhelming 70% support for IM 26. With that, the writing on the wall was scrubbed away.
So now, local cities and counties are left to figure out what’s going to happen in July 1 and how it’s going to proceed from there.
Meanwhile, the state is still wrestling with the issue. Late last week, Noem proposed some language changes to the new law. There was even talk of a possible special legislative session to deal with the issue, which would have been avoidable if these provisions had been addressed more earnestly in January, but here we are.
Yankton is wisely looking to what it will do in a little more than three months. Nothing can be finalized yet — as City Manager Amy Leon told the Press & Dakotan, “Whatever happens at the state level could still change our path of thinking” — but at least the groundwork is in the process of being put in place.