Possession of even a small amount of marijuana in South Dakota carries a potential penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. (National Conference of State Legislatures)
October 4, 2019
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – A group that advocates legalizing medical marijuana in South Dakota has until October 31 to collect enough signatures for the measure to appear on the 2020 ballot.
Melissa Mentele is leading the effort as director of the group New Approach South Dakota, and says the state has some of the strictest cannabis laws in the nation. Mentele believes state residents should have the ability to manage their own health without relying on pharmaceuticals.
“People are ready,” says Mentele. “Ready to have an alternative to opioids. We are seeing a ton of opioid deaths just in this last year in our state, and people are really starting to understand that you can’t live on pain meds for the rest of your life.”
Another advocacy group is collecting signatures for an initiative that would go beyond legalization of ‘medical’ marijuana, and amend the state’s constitution to legalize both marijuana and hemp.
The governor has said she believes legalization of marijuana in other states will end badly, and vetoed a bill earlier this year that would have allowed farmers to grow hemp for industrial purposes.
This is the third time Mentele has tried to get medical marijuana on the ballot. She says her group only needs 17,000 signatures, but is trying to collect 30,000 after having thousands of signatures invalidated in previous attempts.
“I started working in cannabis six years ago after an injury that left me disabled,” says Mentele. “And my first legislative session was basically, ‘Well you’re just a pothead – you just want to smoke marijuana.’ And I’m like, ‘No, actually I need a lotion that works really well at helping my nerve pain.'”
A recent study by the FBI shows about 14% of South Dakota’s more than 63,000 arrests in 2017 were for drug offenses. That made the state the nation’s front-runner for the number of drug arrests in 2017 based on population.