What Does South Dakota's Marijuana Legalization Amendment Mean?

Assuming certain anti-cannabis officials don't get their way, what will South Dakota's Amendment A allow you to do with marijuana and what will it prohibit? 

While South Dakota voters approved the pro-marijuana Amendment A in this year's election, the reforms don't actually go into effect until 1 July 2021. This is certainly disappointing to many but it's true.

If you're caught smoking or selling marijuana between now and the date Amendment A is put into effect, you will still face legal consequences. But what are the rules now and what will change in South Dakota when the laws go into effect on 1 July next year? Read on to find out. 

The Next Seven Months

While we bet you're all eager to enjoy some cannabis, understand that until this July, current laws are still in place. Our good friend Sheriff Kevin Thom said that deputies "will continue to arrest for marijuana use/possession up to the point it is legal,"

If you're caught in possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, you'll be charged with a misdemeanour and receive up to one year behind bars. Selling half an ounce will get you a similar sentence. Selling more than half an ounce is a Class 6 felony capable of netting you a two year sentence. 

Residents of South Dakota "should refrain from using marijuana until that constitutional amendment takes effect," said Eric Whitcher, director of Pennington County's Public Defender's Office. We're inclined to advise the same if you're eager to partake in the fun come July.

Prosecutors like the County State Attorney Mark Vargo say they will exercise judgement on a case-by-case basis, saying they will "be holding it (new cases) up against that lens (of the new laws) and then making individualized decisions." But even so, why risk it? Nobody needs a misdemeanour or felony on their record for an offence that's going to be legal in under a year. 

What's Going to Change?

Unfortunately for those of you with past marijuana-based convictions and convictions, your criminal records will not be expunged even if your offence is soon to be legal. Some other states do forgive these crimes, South Dakota won't be one of them. 

You'll have to individually seek an erasure of your criminal record in court or a pardon through the Board of Pardons and Parole and GOP Gov. Kristi Noem. Assuming your offence wasn't violent in nature, we at the Green Fund wish you luck in dealing with the anti-cannabis governor.

For the rest of you over the age of 21; you'll be allowed to possess, use, transport and sell up to an ounce of marijuana. But if you live in an area without a licensed cannabis store, you can own up to three plants. Recreational marijuana will be subject to a 15% sales tax that will go back to the state and public schools. 

However, if you're renting, your landlord will be within their rights to ban marijuana on their property, which sucks. You also can't (and shouldn't) smoke it on school-grounds or while driving (even though research suggests this isn't a danger). But we think this one is fair game since alcohol and tobacco are also banned here for good reason. You won't unfortunately, be able to smoke it in public.

In terms of medical marijuana; if you get a doctor's certificate; you'll be allowed (at any age) up to three ounces if you have a "debilitating medical condition or symptom". Obviously though, minors will need the permission of a parent or guardian first.

Vargo has said that the new laws will also affect how police do searches. Come July; they'll only be allowed to conduct a search if they have reason to believe you have an amount of marijuana over the legal limit. 

If you only have a joint in the ashtray for instance, and you have no other information, then you would have no reason to search because you would have no reason to believe that a crime had been committed.Mark Vargo, Pennington County State Attorney

If you are on probation or parole, you will still get sent back to prison if you break the current restrictions on marijuana possession. But after Amendment A goes into effect, you can follow the new rules just fine. 

A caveat to this is that judges can order you not to consume marijuana as part of your probation if they think it's the root of whatever compelled you to commit a crime. Obviously marijuana does not make you more prone to criminality, but the fine-print should be taken into account. 

So basically, be patient until 1 July 2021 and you can own an ounce of marijuana without losing years of your life. While prosecutors will likely be more lenient to cases until then, don't be the guy who couldn't resist opening the presents days before Christmas and then being excluded from the fun.

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Cameron Kinsella
Cameron Kinsella

Cameron is an Australian writer, film geek, and political science graduate from the University of Sydney who is passionate about the culture that has arisen surrounding cannabis. Cameron hopes to one day bring that culture to Australia through educating audiences