PIERRE, S.D. — November 2020 may be more than a year away, but South Dakotans hoping to change state law by the rule of the people are already circulating petitions in hopes of getting their initiated measures on the ballot.
Under South Dakota law, a citizen is able to register a statewide petition for either an initiated measure or state constitutional amendment with the Secretary of State's Office, with the hopes of putting their question directly to voters on the ballot. The theory behind the petitioning process is that it puts lawmaking authority directly into the hands of the people, rather than keeping it solely with the Legislature.
In order for an initiated measure question to appear on November 2020's ballot, petitioners need to receive 16,961 signatures by Nov. 4, 2019. For a constitutional amendment, that number is double: 33,921.
As of Friday, Aug. 30, three petitions are currently being circulated in the state, two of which look to loosen South Dakota's famously tough marijuana laws.
The first, which was approved for circulation in March, was proposed by Spearfish 2022 mayoral hopeful John Dale. It would legalize the possession, distribution, sale and growth of marijuana by any South Dakotan over the age of 21, as well as marijuana paraphernalia. For those under 21, medical marijuana as prescribed would be permitted.
The second, narrower petition would legalize medical marijuana for patients with a prescription, and establish a registration card system with the State Department of Health. Testing, manufacturing and cultivation facilities, as well as dispensaries, would also have to register with the DOH.
Approved by the Secretary of State's Office for circulation on Aug. 15, statewide medical marijuana advocacy group and petitioners New Approach South Dakota were seen getting signatures last weekend at Rapid City's Central States Fair.
The two petitions come at a time when the state is already battling over whether to legalize the growth and production of industrial hemp. Hemp is a crop related to, but distinct from cannabis, and does not contain a high enough quantity of THC to cause a "high" if ingested.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem in March vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature which would have legalized industrial hemp, citing regulation and enforcement concerns. This summer, a legislative study is inspecting the question of legalizing hemp come January's 2020 session.
Noem is still pushing hard against the idea. Ahead of last week's hemp study session, she submitted hundreds of questions to legislators, which House Majority Leader and study chairman Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said he was "not happy" with. And on Thursday, Noem penned her weekly column on the topic, saying "hemp is not the answer," and "legalizing industrial hemp legalizes marijuana by default.
South Dakota is one of three states that has not yet legalized hemp, per the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The final petition circulating, spearheaded by Cory Heidelberger of Aberdeen — who founded ballot question committee SD Voice and writes for his political blog Dakota Free Press — looks to reform the ballot measure petitioning process, itself.
Heidelberger's ballot measure, if passed, would eliminate the state's requirement of circulators to disclose certain information like their residency, or whether they are being paid to circulate the petition. It would also allow initiated measures and amendments to span multiple subjects, among other changes.
Heidelberger's attempt to overhaul the state's current system comes a few months after a federal judge ruled unconstitutional an initiated measure passed in 2018 that banned out-of-state contributions to initiated measure campaigns. Heidelberger sued the state over the measure, as well as the South Dakota Newspaper Association, Retailers Association, Broadcasters Association and Chamber Ballot Action Committee, as well as Americans for Prosperity and Thomas Barnett, Jr.