By Associated Press
(AP) — Marijuana legalization advocates kicked off their campaign to convince South Dakota voters to vote to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana in the November general election.
On the November ballot, voters would decide on two separate initiatives. One would create an amendment to the South Dakota constitution to allow people 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The other initiative would create a law allowing medical marijuana and setting up a system for it to be distributed.
South Dakota, where marijuana is currently illegal, would be the first state to approve both medical and recreational marijuana at the same time, if voters pass a pair of initiatives on the November ballot. In a solidly-conservative state, the proposals may serve as an indicator of how much opinions on marijuana have changed as states across the nation move to legalize a drug that is still technically outlawed by the federal government. But they will have to overcome the opposition of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
Drey Samuelson, the campaign group’s political director, said it planned to run a “grassroots campaign,” working to convince people of the benefits of marijuana, including its potential for new business and tax revenue.
Legalizing recreational marijuana would be a large jump for a state where lawmakers recently battled for nearly a year to get industrial hemp legalized. When marijuana was last on the ballot in 2010, 63% of voters decided against medical pot. And Noem vetoed a bill to create an industrial hemp program last year, arguing that it would be a gateway to legalizing pot. This year, she struck a compromise with legislators to approve hemp if they funded beefed-up drug law enforcement.
She has said that marijuana is a gateway to more addictive and harmful drugs and that people who work in law enforcement and addiction counseling have asked her to oppose it.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for the governor, said, “The governor has always opposed legalizing marijuana and therefore opposes these measures.”
A couple Native American tribes in South Dakota have also eyed the economic benefits of marijuana, with the Oglala Sioux Tribe voting to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana in March.
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki