Major marijuana companies are failing in state legalization efforts, South Dakota campaign says, as another poll shows initiative lagging
With another poll showing a ballot initiative on marijuana legalization in South Dakota lagging behind, a high-profile activist is calling out the national cannabis industry for pumping money into “expensive fanciful lobbyists of DC” who have achieved “virtually nothing” at the federal level while state campaigns are “starved” of resources.
The KELOLAND News, Emerson College and The Hill survey released Tuesday shows 51% of South Dakotans plan to vote against the legalization measure next month, while 40% said they would support it and 10% remain undecided. .
Those numbers indicate the reform measure could meet a different fate than when state voters approved a legalization initiative in 2020, only to have it struck down by the courts.
There is little time left for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) to convince the undecided and sway the opponents. But the campaign says its ability to reach voters this cycle has been limited by a lack of interest and financial contributions from big cannabis companies.
SDBML director Matthew Schweich, who is also the deputy director of the National Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that in general, “predicting who is going to run for office has never been so difficult.” And while the campaign isn’t convinced that recent polls accurately reflect voter sentiment toward the initiative, it has felt largely ignored by the industry as more resources pour into Washington, D.C.
“I believe we’re going to have a good result on Election Day despite these polls,” Schweich said. “Our goal is to work hard, which we have been doing for the past year.”
But that hard work costs money — something fewer major marijuana brands seem willing to offer to the state-level effort. Schweich said 70% of campaign funding came from South Dakota businesses, which “underscores the fact that there is no longer any national philanthropic support for cannabis reform.”
“The future of cannabis reform ballot initiatives will be 100% industry funded,” he said. “I am deeply frustrated with the biggest cannabis companies in this country, who wasted their money on DC lobbyists and got next to nothing. Meanwhile, reforms at the state level are starved even though all of our progress has been at the state level.
“Thousands of dollars are wasted on federal efforts that should have been directed to the state level,” he said. “They have their priorities upside down.”
Even with Democratic majorities in the current Congress, no substantive marijuana reform legislation has been enacted despite increased industry lobbying. The House has twice passed a cannabis legalization bill and seven times approved legislation on marijuana banks, but the proposals are stalled in the Senate under the scrutiny of Democrats and Republicans.
That said, leadership is should table a set of incremental reforms during the lame duck session after the election, and many hope that the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations will produce something passable that can be sent to President Joe Biden’s office before the session ends.
Campaign finance records that were submitted on Monday show SDBML raised $492,647 from May 19 to October 19, with the bulk of that ($436,000) coming from businesses, 75% of which are based in the South Dakota.
“South Dakota-based cannabis businesses have ramped up,” Schweich said. But the same cannot be said for big-dollar domestic cannabis companies and stakeholders, he argued.
“I’m the guy in the trenches who does five different jobs and hasn’t had a day off since August. Sometimes I wish I was a DC lobbyist who had to take three meetings a week and have every weekend to spend with my family,” he said. “I choose to fight the good fight.”
Another factor working against the campaign is the fact that they are running this initiative during a midterm election year, rather than a year with the presidency on the ticket, when younger, more liberal voters tend to stand at the polls.
Conservative voters are more likely to dominate the midterm elections, and the new poll shows why that could be seriously problematic for the campaign. The majority of Democrats (59%) and independents (54%) say they will vote for the Measure 27 Initiative. But 66% of Republicans say they will vote against it.
The investigation involved interviews with a sample of likely voters from October 19 to 21, with a margin of error of +/- 2.4 percentage points. This is the third survey in a row showing legalization measure behind as the elections are fast approaching.
Despite the polls and the limited budget, Schweich says, “I still believe we’re going to win this campaign.”
SDBML also recently launched a new ad it reminds South Dakotans how a lawsuit led by Gov. Kristi Noem (R) ultimately led the state Supreme Court to strike down a 2020 voter-approved legalization measure. The court sided with the administration that the earlier initiative violated the single-subject ballot rule.
Meanwhile, opponents have also released an ad that aims to stoke fears about the impact of legalization on children, starting with a narrator showing a video of children and saying “these are future drug addicts, future victims of suicide, future victims of an impaired driver”.
The Legalization Campaign announced separately this month that it was kick off a 10-day statewide tour to register voters and inform the electorate about the initiative.
Activists have already cleared a major hurdle by submitting enough valid signatures to qualify the marijuana measure for the November ballot. They turned in nearly 20,000, and the Secretary of State’s office confirmed in May that they had reached the 16,961 signatures required for ballot placement.
To avoid the single subject issue that led to the invalidation of the 2020 initiative, the 2022 measure omits the provisions of the previous version that dealt with taxes and regulations, leaving those decisions to the legislature.
While the governor has worked more recently to align with the state’s medical cannabis program, despite previously opposing the two 2020 cannabis measures, she said in August that she was committed to do his job and see through the implementation of recreational legalization if voters approve of it this year.
She said the 2022 measure “is more appropriately drafted constitutionally,” signaling that she would not subject it to another legal challenge.
But the idea that Noem, who vetoed a modest hemp reform bill in 2019 and actively urged voters to oppose the adult use measure in TV ads the following year – now content to implement legalization if voters approve of it raised some eyebrows.
House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D), who is the Democratic nominee challenging the governor this year, also blamed Noem for his earlier efforts to interfere with voter-approved legalization, posting ads in August. who remind voters of the interference.
A poll released in December 2021 found that most South Dakota voters approved of Noem’s overall performance, but only 39% supported his handling of marijuana legalizationwith 51% disapproval.
Noem tried to get the legislator to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for another year, but although he cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference, delivering a defeat to the governor.
In response, his office began exploring a compromise last yearwith a proposal that came out of his administration to decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, limit the number of plants patients can grow to three, and bar those under 21 from qualifying for medical marijuana.
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Following the court ruling that invalidated the previous victory at the polls, campaigners have decided to take a two-track approach to policy change in 2022, both working with lawmakers for legislative reform while raising separately from signatures for the ballot initiative if lawmakers fail to act.
While they would have preferred lawmakers to pass the policy change, that did not materialize this session. The House rejected a legalization bill passed by the Senate in March, effectively leaving it up to activists to stand at the polls again.
The SDBML said it intended to work with lawmakers on the measure while continuing to push for the ballot measure.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization poll initiative would accomplish if approved by the voters:
The measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to three plants for personal use.
It also provides for civil penalties for violating provisions related to matters such as public consumption or the cultivation of more plants than permitted.
Employers would be specifically allowed to continue to enforce the workplace drug policy prohibiting the use of cannabis by workers.
State and local governments could continue to prohibit marijuana-related activities made legal under the initiative in buildings “owned, leased or occupied” by a government agency.
The measure does not touch on regulatory policies regarding the taxation of cannabis sales, licensing or equity.
An Interim Marijuana Study Committee, led by legislative leaders, was created last year to explore cannabis policy reform, and the group ultimately recommended that the legislature take legalization this session. The bill rejected by the House was one of the direct products of this recommendation.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.