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Despite defeat, cannabis legalization efforts likely to continue in South Dakota

Marijuana
David McNew
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Getty Images

South Dakota voters flip flop on recreational marijuana in one election cycle. So, what’s next for cannabis?

This year’s ballot measure aiming to legalize marijuana failed by 53 to 47 percent. In 2020, a similar measure passed at 54 to 46 percent.

University of South Dakota political science professor Mike Card said this could be marijuana’s last stand for some time.

“Many of us grew up with reefer madness and talking about what horrible things would happen if you smoked marijuana, and that is still in older voters minds," Card said. "I think it’ll be a while before we get another initiative on recreational marijuana. I don’t think 2024 will be the year, maybe not 2026.”

Around 163-thousand South Dakotans voted in favor of decriminalization this year. That’s 60-thousand fewer “yes” votes than 2020.

Card said organized opposition proved a difference maker.

“The bigger story is there was no opposition to the marijuana initiatives that was really organized or well-funded as there was in this last election," Card said. "There was active opposition focused on what this would do to our children, that the black market would make it worse.”

Matthew Schweich is the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. He said the legalization battle is not yet over.

“This was a really great opportunity to make sure the future of South Dakota’s cannabis industry is South Dakotan and homegrown," Schweich said. "A few years from now when marijuana is inevitably legal in South Dakota it’s going to probably be big national companies that swoop in. So, there’s some real irony here that our opponents made their case in part ‘this campaign represented big marijuana’ but actually through their efforts they are helping big marijuana in the long run.”

A representative for a marijuana opposition group says he expects cannabis legalization efforts to continue in South Dakota.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.
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