South Dakota Pot Panel Recommends Legalization

The South Dakota State Capitol building in Pierre, South Dakota. Photo: Shutterstock

PIERRE — The South Dakota Legislature should legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana, according to a panel of lawmakers who’ve spent months studying cannabis policy.

The Marijuana Interim Study Committee wrapped up the work it began last spring Wednesday, when it formally adopted a recommendation to be sent to the full Legislature that would end South Dakota’s prohibition on marijuana use, cultivation and sales. It also recommends establishing a 15% tax on the sale of cannabis products in the state.

“I’m not a supporter of marijuana but I’m trying to make sure that if we’re going to have it, we’ve got a good, solid regulatory system that is in the middle somewhere,” said committee co-chair Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown. “That controls the product, makes sure it’s safe, makes sure it stays away from our children as much as we can, and that it pays for itself.”

The recommendation calls for allowing dispensaries, testing and cultivation facilities to be licensed by the state while allowing local governments to establish restrictions and prohibitions of their own. It would not allow growing of recreational cannabis in private residences.

The 15% tax rate being recommended mirrors what voters passed in Constitutional Amendment A, the ballot measure that sought to legalize recreational marijuana in November 2020 but is tied up in court following a legal challenge by a pair of South Dakota law enforcement officers and Gov. Kristi Noem.

Bartels was joined by 13 others on the 24 member committee in favoring the recreational marijuana recommendation, which originally also called for doing away with the medical marijuana program stood up by the Department of Health in recent months.

Bartels and four other lawmakers who worked together to draft the recommendations argued that a medical program for adults wouldn’t be necessary if recreational marijuana was legal for all adults. But that part of the proposal was scrapped early in the committee’s meeting Wednesday after cannabis advocates as well as some lawmakers voiced concerns about undermining work done on medical marijuana policy and rules by the state and the Legislature.

With a repeal of the entire medical marijuana law no longer being proposed, the committee continued worked into the evening, hearing dozens of potential changes the Legislature could consider making.

For instance, Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, filed more than a dozen amendments ahead of the meeting relating to medical marijuana – mostly aimed at tightening restrictions and bolstering child safety measures around cannabis.

In the end, the panel OK’ed some recommendations like requiring someone seeking a medical marijuana card to meet with a medical professional in-person, adding physician’s assistants to the list of medical providers who can authorize medical marijuana use and recommending a three-plant limit for home grown cannabis by medical marijuana card holders.

They also rejected a proposal to fine medical card holders if they switched medical providers but failed to alert the Department of Health, and another that sought to make it a felony for someone without a medical marijuana card to receive cannabis sold at a medical marijuana dispensary.

The recommendations out of the interim committee require endorsement from the Legislature’s Executive Board before being formally introduced during the next regular lawmaking session at the Capitol.