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Despite Obstacles, SD Marijuana Group Feels Good about Effort

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Monday, March 29, 2021   

PIERRE, S.D. -- Today is the last day of South Dakota's legislative session, and lawmakers could decide the fate of a medical marijuana program approved by voters but opposed by the governor.

Gov. Kristi Noem, a staunch critic of legalizing marijuana in any form, pushed to delay starting a medical cannabis program this summer.

Her office acknowledged the window has passed, and is now urging lawmakers to consider a host of restrictions before the process ramps up.

Matthew Schweich, director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said earlier this year, things didn't look good for an on-time start. He credits the turnaround to a grassroots effort to defend the will of the public.

"We generated thousands of calls and thousands of emails," Schweich touted. "And by doing that, we fought off some very severe delays."

Last November, two ballot initiatives were approved, one for medical cannabis use, another for recreational use for adults. The latter is still tied up in the courts.

Noem and other opponents argued the amendment was too broad, and expressed concerns about the societal effects of legalization.

Schweich's group offered some compromises along the way, including counter-provisions to the tighter restrictions Noem is floating, but he said they are standing firm in negotiations.

"The original bill said three plants per patient," Schweich explained. "We're proposing that be increased to six plants. Three would be the lowest plant count of any medical marijuana law in the country that allows home cultivation by patients."

He added there is debate over whether people younger than 21 could be allowed to access medical marijuana.

It's unclear if lawmakers will consider the governor's plan this week, or whether they'll be called back for a special session down the road.


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