PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem on Wednesday promised she will honor the will of voters to legalize pot for medical use, just not this year.
The Republican governor announced a plan to delay legalization of medical marijuana until July 1, 2022, saying she did not have enough time to study the issue and implement a program. Medical cannabis was supposed to be legalized on July 1 of this year after voters passed a ballot initiative in November.
The slow-walk was the second setback this week pro-pot groups in the state, after a judge on Monday struck down a voter-passed constitutional amendment that would have legalized recreational pot. Noem, an ardent opponent of recreational pot legalization, had pushed for the lawsuit.
Republican legislative leadership supports Noem's plan. House Speaker Spencer Gosch unveiled a bill early Wednesday that would delay the voter-passed law, known as Initiated Measure 26, by a year and set up a committee to study implementation. The governor would appoint 10 of its 22 members. The committee would be tasked with preparing legislation by next January.
“We are working diligently to get IM 26 implemented safely and correctly,” Noem said in a statement. “The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time."
Noem opposed marijuana legalization of any kind before the November election, but after medical pot legalization passed with nearly 70% support, her administration has been working with Cannabis Public Policy Consulting. The group says it usually takes 14 to 20 months to put a medical pot program together. Neighboring North Dakota took about two years to implement a medical pot program.
Democrats argued Noem’s administration should have begun implementing the program as soon as it became clear it had been passed by voters. Noem’s administration signed its contract with the cannabis consultants on Jan. 19, according to state records.
“The fact that they are dragging their feet on it is really frustrating,” House Democratic Leader Jamie Smith said, noting that the delay affects those who need marijuana for medical conditions.
Gosch, a Republican, argues in his bill that the voter-passed measure did not consider the complexities of setting up a marijuana program, from taxing medical pot to naming the medical conditions that would qualify for a marijuana prescription. Under the law, schools would be required to allow students with prescriptions to consume marijuana, but it is not clear how that would be implemented.
Lawmakers are also working amid uncertainty on the final outcome of the court case on recreational marijuana, as pro-pot groups say they plan to appeal this week's ruling to the state Supreme Court. The high court is not expected to rule until well after lawmakers leave Pierre in March.
But for Republicans, at least one thing is clear: Voters want medical marijuana.
“The people have spoken,” Gosch said. “We have a job to do.”
However, Melissa Mentele, who spearheaded the medical cannabis campaign, argued the delay was not respecting the will of voters, noting they had passed “a complete policy” based on best practices from other states.
She called Noem's proposal "harmful to patients and disrespectful to the people of South Dakota.”