Here’s What’s Happening In South Dakota Legal Cannabis 2021

By Daniel Asarch

South Dakota has always had a special place in my heart.  I have family and friends that make it a 2nd home.  In addition to running my hemp company, Happy Hemp Pharm, I have spent considerable energy as a cannabis pharmacist and activist working helping to establish the South Dakota cannabis industry.   I have great ambitions and hope they come to fruition.  Like South Dakota, I feel that being an underdog pushes people to their greatness and allows their impactful soul to shine thru.  Cannabis is not a gateway drug it’s an exit drug. 

Will 2021 be the year of cannabis? That is the million dollar question.  So far it’s shaping up to be that way.  The cannabis industry seems to be giving the technology industry a run for its money.  Picking up momentum from last year’s 2020 election we saw forms of legalization occur in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and my home state of South Dakota.  So far in 2021, 4 more states including Georgia, New Mexico, New Jersey, and New York have kept the momentum going with a few more potential states on the horizon. 

Out of all these ‘legal states,’ one state stands out as the underdog: South Dakota.  South Dakota has tried to legalize medical marijuana three times, beginning in 2016.  The first 2016 medical marijuana initiative was defeated.  In 2018, the revised medical marijuana initiative did not even make the ballot, failing to meet the requisite signatures.  Finally in 2o20, the third time was a charm! Not only did the medical marijuana IM 26 initiative pass but recreational Amendment A passed as well.  South Dakota was the first state in history to have the opportunity to vote on medical and recreational marijuana on the same ballot.  


However, this historic moment did not go over well with sitting Governor Kristi Noem.  Kristi Noem has been a long time opponent against cannabis in any of its legal forms.   As soon as she could, she indirectly had Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Rick Miller file a lawsuit on behalf of the state.  The lawsuit that was brought forward argues that it violates the state’s one subject rule and the amendments and revisions article of the South Dakota constitution.  This lawsuit did not go over well with the citizens of South Dakota.  Not only was Governor Noem using taxpayer money to participate in the lawsuit but also in doing so pretty much gave the people of South Dakota the middle finger.  The people of South Dakota know what they voted for on the ballot.  Both medical and recreational cannabis received more votes separately and together than Governor Kristi Noem when she was elected.  Cannabis is a bipartisan issue not a partisan one.

   Besides enacting a lawsuit against Amendment A, Governor Noem tried to dismantle IM 26.   IM 26 was written concisely with the patient in mind by Melissa Mentele.  Melissa Mentele, who has a background in nursing as well as a chronic debilitating disorder, has been working on getting medical cannabis passed in South Dakota for the last 6 years.  She started this fight in 2015 by creating New Approach South Dakota (NASD), a  cannabis patient advocacy group.  With the help of NASD, volunteers over the years have been educating the public and collecting signatures for the various ballot measures.  To help the ballot measures succeed last year another group joined the fight: South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. 

After successfully helping both measures pass, both groups took up the challenge of continuing the fight against Governor Kristi Noem and most of the South Dakota legislative representatives.  In February, Amendment A was handed a lower circuit court loss by a Gov. Noem appointed judge.  However, it was appealed and sent up to the South Dakota Supreme Court for a final ruling at a later time.  During the same month in legislative session IM 26 appeared to be on the chopping block.   Noem and some of the SD legislature representatives wanted to delay and dismantle IM 26.  With the help of fellow South Dakotans all over the state, many emails and phone calls were made to legislators expressing their discontent of their votes not being respected.  In the end , the legislature decided to uphold the people’s vote on IM 26.  Now that the legislative issue of IM 26 was laid to rest, focus could be turned back over to the Amendment A lawsuit.  Running low on court funds, a great group of individuals created and championed a 2 day charity concert, Freedom we’re on it.   Tons of local musicians, advocates, and comedians participated along with local businesses supporting with donations for an auction.  South Dakotans care about one another and have a lot of pride for their state.

Medical marijuana starts July 1st barring no other surprises.  If the judgement for Amendment A gets upheld, then South Dakota could see a recreational market here real soon, but technically the state has until next year to implement it.  If Amendment A fails, then the challenge to get it on the ballot for 2022 begins.  The people of South Dakota and the rest of the US are anxiously waiting the decision.