AP NEWS
ADVERTISEMENT

Noem’s medical marijuana plan scuttled by Senate

March 11, 2021 GMT
FILE- In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D. Gov. Noem's effort to limit the powers of conservation officers suffered a partial setback in the Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, with debate in one Senate committee resulting in a lively exchange between her staff and Republican senators. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP, File)
FILE- In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks in Sioux Falls, S.D. Gov. Noem's effort to limit the powers of conservation officers suffered a partial setback in the Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, with debate in one Senate committee resulting in a lively exchange between her staff and Republican senators. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP, File)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s push to scale back a voter-approved measure to legalize medical marijuana failed Wednesday after Republican senators defied her.

Noem’s proposal died after the House and Senate could not agree on the bill, paving the way for a voter-passed medical marijuana law to go into effect on July 1. Noem had argued that her administration needed more time to implement the program, but senators from within her own party defied her plan, reasoning they owed it to voters to end marijuana prohibitions in some form.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Senate on Monday passed a proposal with key deviations from Noem’s plan, which aimed to delay legalization until next year. Notably, it decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot for all adults starting July 1 and protected medical users’ ability to possess up to three ounces (85 grams). It would have kept a six-month delay to medical marijuana legalization.

That forced a choice upon the governor and her allies in the House: Accept the senate’s proposal or reject the bill, allowing the medical marijuana program — as passed by voters — to go into effect July 1.

Sen. Blake Curd, a Republican proponent of the Senate proposal, called it a “reasonable attempt to bridge the gap” between the governor’s desire to take extra months to develop a program and honoring the will of voters.

In an attempt to scuttle the Senate proposal and move the bill forward, the governor and House lawmakers made major concessions from her original plan. She had argued that it would take months to properly implement a medical marijuana program, but a six-month delay was scrapped. House lawmakers proposed a compromise to legalize medical marijuana on July 1, but kept caveats that people under 21 could not use it, medical users could only possess one ounce (28 grams) at a time, and people could not cultivate cannabis plants in their homes.

“I was hoping for some time to do it right,” said House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican who had been the main proponent of the governor’s plan to delay the medical marijuana program and set up a committee to study the issue.

But many lawmakers, even those who have said they were personally opposed to marijuana legalization, have recognized they risked running afoul of voters in denying some form of marijuana legalization.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The people, the public wanted adult-use marijuana, and they wanted medical-use marijuana,” said Republican Rep. Greg Jamison during a House debate on accepting the Senate’s proposal.

Noem, however, has remained adamant in her opposition to recreational pot. Her office spent much of the day putting pressure on lawmakers to turn to her plan. At one point, a hallway of the Capitol echoed with a terse exchange between a senator and the governor’s staff. But a committee of lawmakers tasked with working out a compromise dissolved after less than 20 minutes of debate.

Gosch told the committee, “I think we’re pretty stuck in gridlock and at this particular time I don’t see a path forward.”

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury declined to discuss the governor’s position on the legislation, saying, “We’re not going to negotiate that through the press.”

Late Wednesday, the House elected not to continue negotiations with the Senate, effectively killing the bill. However, Noem has the ability to call a special legislative session to have lawmakers take up the issue.

___

This story was first published on March 10. It was updated March 11 to correct Rep. Greg Jamison’s name. He had been erroneously referred to as “Craig” Jamison.