House lawmakers in South Dakota struck down a Senate-approved bill that would legalize recreational cannabis in the state, and amended a separate measure to remove existing protections for medical marijuana patients.

The adult-use legalization bill – SB 3 – was narrowly approved by Senate lawmakers in February before making its way to the House State Affairs Committee, which voted 8-3 against the proposal.

However, if 24 lawmakers move to force floor consideration of the bill through a so-called “smokeout” then it’s still possible that the House will hold a vote on it.

“SB 3 may have been defeated in committee today but there are still procedural options available to supporters,” explained Matthew Schweich, director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. “This fight is not over. And if we ultimately come up short in this legislative session, then we will go back to the ballot this November and pass adult-use cannabis legalization in South Dakota for the second election in a row.”

Voters in South Dakota approved an adult-use cannabis legalization ballot measure on Election Day 2020, but the initiative was then subject to a legal challenge by Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration which the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of. The result was therefore overturned, so marijuana reform activists in South Dakota went back to the drawing board to try and put another adult-use legalization proposal to voters this November.

Prior to the House committee’s vote, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D) pleaded with members to pass the legalization bill and put it to a full floor vote.

“I do believe that people in South Dakota knew what they were voting for with recreational marijuana. I believe it’s time to tax and regulate this,” Smith said. “I believe setting up that structure as a legislature is better for us than what we will have the opportunity to do if it goes again to the vote of the people and passes again. This gives us an opportunity to set it up as a legislature for the state of South Dakota.”

The defeated measure would allow adults 21 and older in South Dakota to buy and possess up to one ounce of marijuana from state-licensed retailers. South Dakota’s Department of Revenue would be charged with developing and enforcing the rules and regulations of the legal cannabis industry.

Meanwhile, the Senate and House committee-approved amendments to South Dakota’s medical marijuana laws would ensure that individuals arrested for low-level cannabis possession could not plead “affirmative defense” if they have a medical condition that qualifies them for marijuana treatment but are not yet registered as a medical marijuana patient with the state Department of Health.

Law enforcement lobbyists argue this defense is no longer necessary now that more than 300 medical marijuana cards have been issued to qualifying patients. However, opponents claim that patients are still having significant difficulties in finding a physician since each of the state’s three primary healthcare systems are actively discouraging doctors from recommending the treatment.

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