South Dakota medical marijuana advances, but fails to pass in 2016


Last update: December 6, 2016


Earlier this year, the Secretary of State determined that a ballot initiative by New Approach South Dakota that would have created a medical marijuana program in the state did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. A court challenge, alleging that some of these signatures should not have been deemed invalid on technical grounds, was unsuccessful.

As a result of the campaign’s efforts, however, the South Dakota Legislature introduced the language of the ballot initiative as a bill, SB 171. The legislature then held a hearing on February 17, 2016. Unfortunately, the bill was amended by the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services to allow only CBD oil containing less than 3% THC. It would also have been ineffective because it required doctors to prescribe the oil, which they cannot do under federal law. This limited bill passed the Senate 20-15 and also passed out of a House committee but failed on the floor of the House 25-43.

Nevertheless, even having a hearing on medical marijuana was a positive step for the legislature and generated additional support for medical marijuana that can be built upon in the next session. Please ask your legislators to support access to medical marijuana for seriously ill South Dakotans suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions that can be relieved by medical cannabis.

In addition, advocates plan to try again to give South Dakotans the opportunity to vote on medical marijuana in 2018.

South Dakota marijuana possession laws may be the nation’s harshest


Possession of just a small amount of marijuana in the state carries a potential penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Even more alarmingly, individuals who have consumed marijuana elsewhere are also subject to this penalty if they test positive for past use — even if they consumed marijuana in a state where it was legal. South Dakota appears to be the only state with such an “internal possession” law. In addition, possession of any amount of hash or concentrates is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that South Dakota was among the top 10 states for racial disparity in marijuana possession arrest rates. Despite people of all races using marijuana at very similar rates, blacks in South Dakota are nearly 4.8 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Click here to ask your legislators to treat marijuana possession as civil offense, eliminating jail time for adults who choose to use a substance that is safer than alcohol and the life-changing collateral consequences triggered by a criminal conviction.

Stay connected


Thank you for supporting the Marijuana Policy Project. If you have not already, please subscribe to our alerts to stay up-to-date on the status of marijuana policy reform in South Dakota.

Pending Legislation