South Dakota first state to vote on recreational, medical marijuana in same election

Posted at 4:53 PM, Oct 09, 2020

Marijuana is still federally illegal, but multiple states will vote on either medical or recreational marijuana measures this election. In South Dakota, voters will be deciding on both.

"It's very rural, I like to tell people it's one big small town," said Melissa Mentele, Executive Director of New Approach South Dakota, when explaining South Dakota. "South Dakota is incredibly conservative."

This upcoming election, South Dakota is looking at a traditionally liberal ballot measure -- allowing medical marijuana.

"It's about 70 to 30 red to blue. And if you're red, you typically aren't pro-marijuana," David Tingle, a resident of Sioux Falls since 1996, said.

But pro-marijuana organizations are looking to change that.

"We have patients from every single demographic. We have patients that are 6-month-old babies with seizure disorders up to 90 plus-year-old people," said Mentele,

The organization has been working on patient access to medical marijuana in South Dakota for six years. This election, through Measure 26.

"We want to be done. There's a lot of us that have given our lives to this," she said.

South Dakota is the first state to vote on medical marijuana, Measure 26, and recreational marijuana, Amendment A, in the same election. Measure 26 would establish a medical marijuana program. Amendment A would legalize recreational use for those over 21 and have written for a medical marijuana program.

"The revenue from Amendment A would be split 50-50 to our schools in South Dakota and our state's general fund," said Drey Samuelson, Political Director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.

"People don't have any real trouble getting marijuana. If you want it, you can get it. The question is where you're going to get it from, an illegal, illicit source," he said. "The alternative is people can buy it from a clean, well-lit dispensary."

Despite promises of additional revenue and jobs for the state, Amendment A is not supported by everyone.

"They're going to create an additional consumer choice, they're not going to increase the wealth of South Dakota," David Owen, President of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce, said.

He is also the chairman of the "No Way on Amendment A" ballot committee.

"It threatens increased youth usage. It threatens more traffic accidents. It's an intoxicant," Owen said.

Owen said the Chamber supports the medical use of marijuana but said an amendment to the state's constitution for recreational marijuana makes no sense.

"This is a constitutional amendment, and this is not the place. Tobacco is not in the constitution; alcohol is not in the constitution," Owen said. "Our polling suggests that a good segment of people that want to vote for Amendment A want to do so for medical reasons. They want to help people that are sick."

This includes South Dakotans like David Tingle.

"If anybody is in pain and that is the only thing that helps them or helps them the best, there should be accommodations made for them, I think. I have concerns that that could be abused," said Tingle, who works at a local contracting company. "I've lived in South Dakota since 1996."

While he understands medical marijuana use, he said he does not want recreational cannabis in the state.

"I will vote against it, and I fully expect it to be defeated," he said.

South Dakota is one of five states voting on a marijuana issue this election. Currently, four states have no cannabis access -- Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures in March 2020. Eleven states allow adult recreational use, and another 25 have some legal, medical cannabis, or CBD program.

"If we pass both of them, we officially take one giant leap toward federal reform," Mentele said. "Because we are one of those states that this is an issue that most people never dreamed that we would A get enough signatures to put both on the ballot, and B that people would support this."

Sam D'Arcangelo, Director of the Cannabis Voter Project, wrote to E.W. Scripps in a statement:

"Of the four states voting on recreational marijuana legalization this year, only New Jersey is a solidly blue state. If legalization makes it over the finish line in conservative states like South Dakota and Montana, it will be a game-changer. It will mean pretty much any state is within reach if you can get something on the ballot."

The decision is in the hands of South Dakota voters.

"This wouldn't have passed 10 years ago for sure, but people's attitudes in America are changing," Samuelson said.