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. 

South Dakota Governor Noem and Legislative Leaders Announce Plan for Implementation of IM 26

SOUTH DAKOTA:  Governor Kristi Noem and leadership in both chambers of the South Dakota state legislature announced a plan to implement Initiated Measure 26 (IM 26).

“We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly,” said Governor Kristi Noem. “The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time. I am thankful to our legislative leaders for helping make sure that we do this right.”

The plan would add a year of additional flexibility on the implementation timeline and create an interim committee to meet and recommend solutions before next legislative session.

The state of South Dakota has consulted with industry experts Cannabis Public Policy Consulting (CPPC). CPPC has not seen a successful implementation of a medicinal marijuana program in just 8 months, the timeframe IM 26 currently requires. Some states take more than two years for successful implementation. To address this, the implementation plan adds additional flexibility to the timeline. This will allow the State of South Dakota to address several policy concerns and additional rules regarding IM 26.

“Our Senate leadership fully supports the effort to properly implement a workable medical marijuana program,” said Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack. “We will honor the voters’ wishes.”

Furthermore, CPPC advises that no state in the country has ever implemented both a medicinal and a recreational marijuana program simultaneously. While the circuit court has ruled that Amendment A is unconstitutional, the state is still anticipating that the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to weigh in on this constitutional matter.

“There is no doubt that IM 26 passed in South Dakota, and it is fully our intention to honor the will of the voters,” said House Majority Leader Kent Peterson. “Based upon the experiences of other states, we know that it takes time to start implementing a safe and workable program. We will get the job done.”

HB 1100 was amended to be the vehicle for the plan’s passage. You can read CPPC’s guidance to the state on the implementation timeline here.

South Dakota Department Of Agriculture Submits Hemp Plan To United States Department Of Agriculture

SOUTH DAKOTA: The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) submitted its plan to regulate industrial hemp in South Dakota to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for final approval.

“I am looking forward to working with industrial hemp producers and processors in South Dakota,” says Derek Schiefelbein, SDDA Industrial Hemp Program Manager. “The SDDA will continue to develop the program while waiting for approval from the USDA. Processors and growers can look for more information for how to apply in the near future.”

The industrial hemp legislation was passed by the South Dakota legislature in 2020 authorizing the SDDA to create a program to regulate the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp. The SDDA has been working to establish the industrial hemp program to support this new industry in the state.

Agriculture is a major contributor to South Dakota’s economy, generating $32.5 billion in annual economic activity and employing over 132,000 South Dakotans. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s mission is to promote, protect, and preserve South Dakota agriculture for today and tomorrow. Visit us online at or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Flandreau Sioux Put Marijuana Resort On Hold

SOUTH DAKOTA: The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is temporarily suspending its marijuana cultivation and distributing facilities and is destroying its existing crop as leaders seek clarification on regulations from the federal government, according to the tribe’s lawyer.

Seth Pearman said the suspension is pivotal to the continued success of the marijuana venture and that tribal leadership is confident that after getting clarification from theU.S. Department of Justice, “it will be better suited to succeed.”

“The tribe will continue to consult with the federal and state government and hopes to be granted parity with states that have legalized marijuana,” Pearman said in the news release.


‘Marijuana Resort’ Budding In South Dakota, Set To Open By Year’s End

SOUTH DAKOTA: The marijuana plants are already growing in a remodeled building on the Flandreau Santee Sioux reservation as the southeast South Dakota tribe shoots for a New Year’s Eve opening for its first-of-its-kind resort.

The state-of-the-art marijuana growing operation with its 65 strains of plants is in its infancy as finishing touches are being put on the building where it will take about 14 weeks to grow about 80 pounds of pot. That’s how much the tribe hopes to sell weekly at its smoking lounge and entertainment resort just south of their casino that is noting its 25th year of operation this month.

The resort has been about a year in the making, as the tribal council which leads the tribe of 280 adults and 110 children on the reservation voted 5-1 late last year to pursue the resort idea.

Interest in the operation has certainly been high, and president Tony Reider said other tribes across the nation are closely watching, as it will be the first-ever marijuana resort on a reservation.


Why American Indian Tribes Are Getting Into the Marijuana Business

SOUTH DAKOTA:  This New Year’s Eve, Tony Reider wants to throw a party unlike any his South Dakota tribe has seen.

There will be live music, food, outdoor games—and, floating over the revelry, a haze of marijuana smoke, from a first-of-its-kind pot lounge that is set to open by the end of the year, said Reider, the tribal president of the Flandreau Santee Sioux in Flandreau, S.D.

That pot lounge—modeled on an Amsterdam coffee shop, where customers would be able to buy and smoke up to 2 grams of marijuana a day—would be illegal anywhere else in South Dakota, which, like most U.S. states, bans the sale, possession and public smoking of pot.

As Tribe Prepares To Legalize Marijuana, Questions Remain

SOUTH DAKOTA:  Five months from now, according to the plan, Indians and non-Indians alike will be smoking marijuana on tribal lands in Flandreau.

The U.S. Justice Department told Indian tribes last December that they can grow and sell marijuana as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for Washington, Colorado and other states that have legalized the drug.

For the tribe and Colorado-based Monarch America, hired to design, construct and develop a grow facility on the Flandreau reservation, that has opened the door to a potentially rich new business enterprise — just as the advent of casino gambling did decades ago.

They intend to open by the first week of December, says Monarch America CEO Eric Hagen, who adds, with a smile, “Everyone will have a merry Christmas.”

South Dakota Indian Tribe Signs Deal With Colorado Company To Grow Pot

SOUTH DAKOTA:  An Indian tribe in South Dakota that plans to start selling marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes has chosen a Colorado-based company to grow and distribute the drug on the reservation.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe on Wednesday signed a contract with Monarch America, Inc. The company will be responsible for designing the single, indoor site where the drug will be cultivated and sold.

The tribe earlier this month legalized the growth of marijuana on the reservation’s land. Tribal leaders hope to begin selling the drug by Jan. 1.


Tribe’s OK Of Marijuana Brings South Dakota AG Warning

SOUTH DAKOTA:  The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in eastern South Dakota plans to sell marijuana by Jan. 1; but that prompts a warning from the SD attorney general that tribal laws won’t protect non-Native Americans, nor anyone off tribal land.

The Santee Sioux will grow marijuana at one site; hopefully earning a monthly profit of $2 million according to an Associated Press story.

In a news release, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley stated that while he respects each tribe’s authority to pass laws, people also have to recognize South Dakota’s laws prohibiting “physical possession, distribution, and manufacture of marijuana by all non-Indian persons anywhere in South Dakota including within Indian Country; and all Indian persons outside of Indian Country.”