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South Dakota House committee nixes home-grown cannabis

Before casting his vote in favor of banning home-grow, Rep. Spencer Gosch said he doesn’t disagree with the will of the people, but noted voters elect lawmakers to fix laws before implementing them.

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PIERRE — A South Dakota House committee on Friday morning, Jan. 21, approved a measure to outright ban home marijuana cultivation, leaving industry leaders stuck in the middle, uncertain of what’s to come.

The vote comes two days after a Senate committee passed a bill capping at three the number of cannabis plants a medical marijuana cardholder is allowed to grow.

The House State Affairs Committee on Friday approved House Bill 1004 on a 10-3 vote. The bill would amend the definition of “an allowable amount” of marijuana a cardholder can possess, removing a line that currently allows a minimum of three plants in a home.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, introduced the bill because he said South Dakota has lessons to learn from other states.

“Marijuana has been legal for some 20 years in other states so we can learn from them,” Deutsch said. “The most important facts to know about home-grow is that, first, it’s associated with crime and the black market. Second is that it puts law enforcement at risk.”

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Citing articles and conversations he’s had with government officials in Colorado, Deutsch said his bill would protect kids and communities alike by avoiding fueling the black market.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Swenson echoed Deutsch, claiming that law enforcement would have difficulty enforcing drug laws if home-grow is allowed.

“This will be virtually impossible for us to police,” Swenson said. “In SD it’s unique, you guys support us much more than many other states. It’s more and more difficult to do this job, and home-grow is not going to make it any easier.”

One of many individuals to appear via Zoom, John Suthers, former attorney general for Colorado and current mayor of Colorado City, told the committee home grow is a mistake.

Rep Fred Deutsch
Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, speaks before the House State Affairs Committee on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

“It’s clear to me that the two biggest mistakes we made in our state was allowing home grows and not regulating the THC potency in marijuana,” Suthers said. “We’ve had medical marijuana for 21 years and recreational marijuana for nine years, and the DEA estimates that today there is still more illegally grown marijuana in Colorado than there is legally grown marijuana.”

Suthers said Colorado’s black market is flourishing, as cartels from Cuba from Mexico have invaded his state to grow and export marijuana around the world.

“Home grows were a huge mistake in Colorado, and I consistently urge other states who ask to not make the same mistake,” Suthers warned.

Deutsch: Will of the voters ‘a jumble,’ South Dakotans didn’t read IM 26

Much of the opposing discussion surrounded the idea that the black market argument from proponents could be outright avoided by smart lawmaking.

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Kitt Jeffries, owner of Dakota Cannabis Consulting in Rapid City, told the committee there are a few obvious reasons that Deutsch overlooked on why a cannabis black market exists in other states.

“During the summer study, [banning home-grow] was covered vigorously and was ultimately killed,” Jeffries said. “Overregulation and overtaxation is why the black market wasn’t killed [in Oregon and Colorado].”

Jeffries said some illegal sales can be expected, but it wouldn’t be much of a problem in South Dakota — especially since those involved in the cannabis industry would be willing to report malfeasance.

“Within every regulated market … you have bad actors that sell prescription narcotics. We’ve taken all of that into account when setting up our medical cannabis program,” Jeffries pointed out. “I personally believe that with such a minuscule amount of plants that it would be a minuscule problem. Black market sales affect a dispensary’s bottom line — we are more than willing to report any bad actor in the state.”

Kitt Jeffries
Kitt Jeffries, owner of Dakota Cannabis Consulting in Rapid City, testifies against a bill that would ban home-grown cannabis plants for medical marijuana cardholders on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

Jeffries also noted that lawmakers have a responsibility to uphold the will of their constituents.

“I understand the opponents in wanting to have a regulated industry. That was looked at by the voters, that was passed by 70% majority,” Jeffries said. “By voting yes on this bill, it would be going directly against the will of the people.”

Though noting lawmakers may not be in favor of Initiated Measure 26, Rep. Greg Jamison, R-Sioux Falls, who is not a member of the House State Affairs Committee, echoed Jeffries.

“While we may not appreciate IM 26 and the way it passed … and the language that’s in it … please don't forget the will of the voters,” Jamison said. “The language that’s included in this bill is a substantial change.”

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But Deutsch claims the voters didn’t know what they’d voted for in the first place.

“The will of the voters? That’s really a jumble. I don’t believe for a moment that the voters read 95 sections of a bill,” Deutsch said. “I’ll tell you what, my job is to read bills and I didn’t read it when I went to vote, but I’ve read it a gazillion times since then. How many South Dakotans really knew what they were voting on? I don’t think many.”

Before casting his vote in favor of banning home-grow, Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Mobridge, said he doesn’t disagree with the will of the people, but noted voters elect lawmakers to fix laws before implementing them.

The passage of HB 1004 in committee will move it to the House floor for a vote early next week, as Senate Bill 24 — proposing a limit of three home-grown cannabis plants — is set to reach the Senate floor in the same timeframe.

Dunteman covers general and breaking news as well as crime in the Mitchell Republic's 17-county coverage area. He grew up in Harrisburg, and has lived in South Dakota for over 20 years. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 after earning his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He can be reached at HDunteman@MitchellRepublic.com, or on Twitter @HRDunt.
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