PIERRE — Medical marijuana cardholders will only be allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants in their homes, a South Dakota Senate committee voted Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Though the law set in place by the overwhelming passage of Initiated Measure 26 in November 2020 had originally allowed for medical marijuana cardholders to grow a minimum of three plants in their homes, the Senate Health and Human Service Committee reversed the language in a unanimous vote Wednesday to install a maximum of three home-grown plants.
In what Sen. V.J. Smith, R-Brookings, called a compromise between the authors of IM 26 and a summer study committee, the passage of Senate Bill 24 was a major change in course compared to what was presented to voters at the poll.
“The author of the original IM 26 stated to us in [the summer study] committee that the reason why the odd language of [having] to grow a minimum of three is that they felt the growers had to be serious,” Smith said. “In the committee, for the most part, there was a strong sentiment that they didn’t want any home growing at all.”
Ned Horsted, executive director of the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota, argued Smith’s compromise with statistics he provided from other states.
“Twenty-two states allow home growing of cannabis, and of those states, there’s an average of about 10 plants per household,” Horsted said. “It’s a significant difference. Going from a minimum of three to a maximum of three seems kind of counter to what the voters had voted for.”
After being questioned by Sen. Erin Tobin, R-Winner, on how he and the summer study committee reached the decision to cap it at three, Smith said the limit came from the possibility of cardholders selling their home-grown bud illegally.
“It was the concept of should we allow people to grow marijuana and the fear that if they grow it, would they sell it and give it to people that shouldn’t have it,” Smith answered. “It was coming together for a compromise, and I don’t know any other way to explain that.”
Tobin, a family nurse practitioner, pivoted to question if three plants would produce enough of the medicinal properties to help individuals with a debilitating condition, and if patients would grow it all at once or stagger grows to have consistent yields.
“Budding can be nine to 16 weeks before that plant can be harvested. You could be anywhere from 16 to 20 weeks before you see material,” said Kittrick Jeffries, owner of Dakota Cannabis Consulting in Rapid City. “In my experience, growing more than three plants, I would yield 3 to 6 ounces.”
Tobin, who later suggested adjusting the limit to 12, said a cap of three wouldn’t provide a large enough yield for patients to reap the medicinal benefits.
Before any senators could bring forth an amendment to the bill, Smith motioned the committee pass the bill with a do-pass recommendation for the Senate, which was seconded by Sen. Arthur Rusch, R-Vermillion. Smith claimed passage of the bill would signal the Legislature is simply taking it slow.
“We’re still trying to get a handle on this. Like anything else — you crawl, you walk, then you start to run,” Smith said. “We’re gonna have bills on marijuana for the next several years.”
But Tobin argued that the committee can’t try to predict what future legislatures will do.
“We’ve had our patients waiting for so long for this program to be initiated. We have a Legislature that might not ever decide to go up [on the number of allowable plants grown], which concerns me,” Tobin said. “Either go for the home grow or don’t.”
Smith’s do-pass motion failed on a 3-4 vote.
With the opportunity for discussion revived, Sen. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, quickly introduced an amendment to remove the word “maximum” from the bill.
The motion to amend, which changes the text of the bill to define an “allowable amount of cannabis” as “three cannabis plants,” passed unanimously.
Though now in an ambiguous state — not specifying a maximum or minimum — the bill will head on to the Senate floor for consideration by the chamber in the coming days.