When South Dakota voters approved the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana last November, proponents of one or both of those measures celebrated what truly seemed to many people to be an unlikely development as well as a surprising step forward for the state.
Since then, however, it feels like both November’s triumphs and the future they opened up seem further away than ever.
Constitutional Amendment A, which legalized recreational marijuana (among others things), was challenged in court and shot down. That decision is now being appealed to the state Supreme Court, so its future remains uncertain.
And then there is medical marijuana as approved in Initiated Measure 26 (IM 26), which passed with a resounding 70% support. The measure called for the state to draw up rules by July 1 of this year for implementation of medicinal marijuana. Recently, Gov. Kristi Noem, who had opposed both marijuana measures, announced she wanted to delay the implementation of IM 26 for one year.
Last week, a South Dakota House approved a compromise, offered by the groups New Approach South Dakota and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, offered in House Bill 1100 that would delay implementation of medical marijuana but cut the one year delay down to about six months. Among other issues, it would also create some legal remedies in the interim for those residents who need medicinal marijuana to deal with health issues. Even with the reduced delay, those eligible for medical marijuana could get it no later than May 2022.
However, as lawmakers at the District 18 cracker barrel in Yankton noted Saturday, the proposed delay seems unnecessary. As Rep. Ryan Cwach noted, other states have been able to prepare for such a change in a much shorter period of time. Also, Rep. Mike Stevens, who admitted he didn’t support IM 26 last November, said the sweeping support for the measure means an overwhelming majority of voters demanded action in a timely action, i.e., as stated in the measure’s language.
The problem in delaying the implementation of IM 26 is that it falls too neatly into a perception that the state is dragging its feet in order to undercut the measure. Seeing what’s happened with Constitutional Amendment A — which in effect finds parties prompted by certain state players to sue the state and force the state to defend a law that, it appears, the state itself is trying to dismantle — does not offer much encouragement that what’s happening (or not happening) with medicinal marijuana is on the level. At least, that’s the perception, fairly or unfairly, even though advocacy groups were the ones who proposed this compromise.
It seems sometimes that the will of the people is paramount, except when it isn’t. What we’ve seen since last November is that the public decisions on both recreational and medicinal marijuana are facing frustrating headwinds emanating from those who are charged with overseeing these legal changes. The election numbers are supposed to speak for themselves and guide state officials. That should remain the case, no matter how much extra work is involved.