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Nine Months After Legalizing Marijuana, South Dakotans Still Can’t Buy It

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Bill Stocker is not your typical marijuana reform advocate—he’s retired from the U.S.  Marine Corps and the Sioux Falls Police Department. 

“I have 37 years in uniform, and I am a disabled veteran,” Stocker says. 

You might recognize Stocker from TV ads supporting Amendment A. That was the constitutional amendment legalizing hemp and marijuana. 

Stocker supported the ballot measure because he thinks law enforcement’s capacity is stretched too thin. He says officers should not focus on marijuana but on other drugs.  

“Fentanyl is the problem, not marijuana,” Stocker says. 

Stocker says he not only supported marijuana reform for the state, but also for himself. He suffers from chronic back pain, arthritis and PTSD. 

“I pay my taxes. I’m a registered voter. I do my due diligence. I’m a patriot,” Stocker says. “I have pain. I don’t want to do opioids.” 

Stocker says the only thing that takes care of his pain is edible-based marijuana.  He was counting on that treatment option after voters legalized medical and recreational marijuana. 

But cannabis use is not yet legal in South Dakota, except on one reservation. Republican Governor Kristi Noem has been resistant to cannabis reform since she took office. She opposed industrial hemp and CBD oil legalization during her first two years in office.  

In 2019, Noem urged lawmakers not to pass a bill legalizing industrial hemp. 

“I believe if we move ahead with industrial hemp and we aren’t prepared with it from a regulatory standpoint, from an enforcement standpoint and if we don’t have the equipment or the dollars to do with correctly, that we will be opening the door to allowing marijuana to be legalized in the state of South Dakota.” 

That bill passed the state House and Senate. Noem vetoed it.  

A year and a half later, Noem campaigned against the recreational pot ballot measure. 

“I don’t think anybody got smarter smoking pot,” Noem said. 

Noem says state voters made a bad decision when they approved the constitutional amendment. 

She’s backing a lawsuit to overturn the voter-approved measure on constitutional grounds. The case is awaiting a state Supreme Court decision. That’s why South Dakotan’s cannot purchase recreational marijuana right now. 

Seth Pearman is the attorney general for the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, where medical marijuana is legal for tribal members.  It’s the only jurisdiction in the state that sells medical cannabis. The tribe decided years ago that marijuana was not a high-priority enforcement area. It legalized the plant and wanted to capitalize on the market.  

Pearman says conservative states nationwide are resistant to legalization of marijuana. 

“But I do think that’s changing pretty rapidly,” Pearman says. 

Pearman says as more states regulate and tax cannabis effectively, legalization will continue to expand.  

“This is going to be a trend that continues across the country until every state has something in place or there’s some Federal legislation that would completely legalize,” Pearman adds. 

A state legislative committee has toured the Native Nations Cannabis dispensary in the Flandreau Reservation. Another committee will write a bill that regulates recreational marijuana. 

South Dakota voters surprised the country last November when they voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. 

In 2020, 55 percent of South Dakota voters voted in favor of legalizing recreational pot. Kristi Noem won the 2018 governor’s race with just 51 percent of the vote.   

At lot has changed since Noem ran for governor. Her hands-off approach to the coronavirus AND her support of former President Donald Trump have created a national profile.  

However, most Americans are not on Noem’s side when it comes to marijuana reform. According to a recent Pew research survey, 90 percent of Americans say medical marijuana should be legal. Sixty percent of Americans say marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. 

And that’s lost Noem some support, including retired cop Bill Stocker.  

“I will not vote for her,” Stocker says. “Matter of fact, if there’s a good candidate running against her in ’22 I will not only support that candidate, I will actively campaign for that candidate.” 

Stocker voted for Noem when she ran the first time. He says her commitment to transparency won his vote. However, now Stocker says he’s not happy with the governor’s position on legalization.   

So far, there is no challenger set to run against the rising Republican star. But it’s likely that cannabis will play a role in the campaign.