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South Dakota House committee rejects recreational pot bill

February 28, 2022 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota House Republicans on Monday dismissed a proposal to legalize recreational pot for adults, in a major blow to a bill that aimed to honor the will of voters.

The bill squeaked past the Republican-controlled Senate last week by a single vote with lawmakers reasoning they should stay ahead of a campaign to get recreational marijuana back on the ballot this November. But lawmakers on the House State Affairs committee dismissed the proposal on an eight to three vote.

Marijuana legalization advocates vowed to mount a last-ditch effort to resurrect the proposal on the House floor — a move called a smoke out that would require widespread support from House Republicans.

South Dakota voters passed a constitutional amendment in November 2020 to legalize recreational pot, medical marijuana and hemp. But Republican Gov. Kristi Noem challenged its constitutionality, and the state Supreme Court ruled it should be nullified last year.

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Marijuana legalization advocates then mounted a campaign to bring it back to voters this November, prompting some Republicans to argue they should take hold of the law-making process.

Senate Bill 3, which emerged from a legislative committee that studied the issue last year, would legalize recreational possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by people ages 21 and older. The bill also would allow marijuana to be grown, processed and sold.

Representatives of a fledgling cannabis industry argued that legalizing recreational use would undercut the illegal marijuana market. It would also give homegrown businesses a shot at entering a market that some project could grow to $500,000 a year.

“Put it in my hands,” Josh Wood, who wants to start a cannabis manufacture and sale business in Vermillion, told the committee as he held up a 3 inch (7.5 centimeter) thick binder of compliance regulations for his proposed business.

“I can’t screw up Vermillion, South Dakota,” he said. “I have lived there my whole life.”

But the bill faced opposition from organizations representing law enforcement and doctors who argued that some potent strains are dangerous and should stay illegal for recreational use.

Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin led the move to reject the bill, saying he wouldn’t “vote against law enforcement and against federal law.”

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Meanwhile, the House State Affairs committee dealt a new blow to advocates for medical marijuana, which has been legal in the state since last year.

Republican lawmakers resurrected a pair of proposals and rewrote them into one bill that they said had support from law enforcement groups. Republican Sen. Helene Duhamel, who also works for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, pushed for the bill revision as way to ensure the state’s current pot possession laws are enforced.

The proposals would rid the state’s current medical marijuana law of a provision that allows patients with debilitating medical conditions to avoid criminal charges for pot possession if they have not obtained a marijuana identification card. The other would allow agencies other than the Department of Health to inspect and regulate medical marijuana production and retail facilities, opening the door for law enforcement to be involved.

The committee’s moves Monday drew sharp criticism from marijuana legalization advocates, who have seen growing clout in the state Capitol.

“If you oppose recreational cannabis legalization, you’re wrong about public policy,” Matt Schweich, who has directed the marijuana legalization ballot-measure campaigns, posted on Twitter. “If you support criminalizing medical cannabis patients, you’re not just wrong about public policy. You are adopting a cruel and heartless position.”