Supporters of legalizing marijuana in South Dakota have been thwarted at nearly every turn, including an effort to become the 48th state to approve industrial hemp. But backers are doubling down on this year’s election.
Volunteers are gathering signatures for two initiated ballot measures. One asks voters to approve medical marijuana and the other seeks to legalize recreational marijuana. Supporters tried the same approach to get on the 2018 ballot and failed to garner enough signatures.
Melissa Mentele, head of New Approach South Dakota, a volunteer group sponsoring the medical measure, said attitudes have changed about benefits for patients. She said organizers this time around have financial support from Marijuana Policy Project, one of two national nonprofits working on the measure. The other is New Approach PAC.
“Historically our organization has not done large amounts of fundraising,” Mentele said. “We’ve always been very small and done a lot of grassroots work.”
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem supports South Dakota’s strict cannabis laws and has said that legalizing industrial hemp is legalizing marijuana by default. Hemp is related to cannabis but does not contain enough THC to make someone high.
Brendan Johnson, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor representing South Dakotans For Better Marijuana Laws, the sponsor of the recreational initiative, said his group doesn’t believe it’s a partisan issue.
“I don’t want to have a political fight with the governor,” Johnson said. “President Trump said it is an issue for states to decide and that is what we want South Dakotans to do.”
Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich says internal polling shows that both measures have enough support to pass. If successful with the petition drives this year, Schweich said, it would be the first occasion that any state would have both medical and adult-use marijuana questions on the ballot at the same time.
Kristin Wileman, Noem’s press secretary, told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor doesn’t take public positions on specific ballot initiatives but cites Center for Disease Control statistics showing that marijuana use directly affects brain health and impacts memory, decision-making abilities, and reaction time.
“Gov. Noem believes that the experiments many states are taking with legalized marijuana will end badly,” Wileman said. “It’s her goal to make South Dakota an…