Gov. Kristi Noem floats bill to decriminalize marijuana in South Dakota


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Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration is considering legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in South Dakota.

Lawmakers this week got their first look at potential legislation coming out of the governor’s office that limits the number of plants a medical marijuana user could grow in their home, while also ending South Dakota’s practice of incarcerating adults caught using or possessing marijuana for recreational purposes.

A draft of the measure obtained by the Argus Leader shows Noem is calls for decriminalizing the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of marijuana concentrate. It would still be against the law to possess or use marijuana without a medically-qualifying condition in South Dakota, but a first offense would be a petty offense and not subject to jail time for people over 21.

More: What we know about recreational and medical marijuana legalization in South Dakota

Subsequent offenses would be a class 2 misdemeanor, a less severe charge than the class 1 status of marijuana possession on the books today. 

Noem’s proposal also includes prohibiting youth and people under 21 from smoking or inhaling marijuana, regardless of their medical situation. 

Noem’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said the governor isn’t necessarily in support of the draft proposal, among multiple being considered by Noem and lawmakers behind the scenes.

“This is one of several draft bills being circulated for discussion and Gov. Noem has not endorsed any of them,” he said.

The latest proposal comes after Noem’s administration made a full court press to use the South Dakota legislature to block medical marijuana, approved by voters last November, from taking effect on July 1.

But those efforts fell short when the state Senate refused to sign off on the plan to “delay implementation” of medical marijuana without also reducing the severity of South Dakota’s recreational pot laws, something voters signaled they want when they passed a recreational marijuana law that’s currently on hold pending a case awaiting action from the courts.

Attorneys representing the group that placed both marijuana measures on the November ballot filed an appeal with the Supreme Court earlier this month after a lower court ruled Amendment A unconstitutional.

Lawmakers could consider Noem’s latest proposal when they return to the Capitol for Veto Day next week, or gather for a special session.

Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, told the Argus Leader last week that a special session sometime later this spring or early summer is most likely as legislators would likely want time to consider their options.

Noem said last week that she’s concerned about existing statutes set to take effect this summer that don’t explicitly cap the number of plants a medical marijuana card holder could grow in their home. The draft proposal lawmakers saw this week would set that limit at three plants while also repealing possession by ingestion laws that allow criminal charges to be issued against someone discovered to have marijuana in their blood or urine.

But pro-marijuana advocates working to legalize cannabis in South Dakota don’t want the cap.

A separate proposal South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws has crafted sets the home-cultivation limit at six plants.

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