Customers At South Dakota’s Only Medical Dispensary Still Getting Arrested

February 22, 2022


South Dakota only has one medical cannabis dispensary. To make matters worse, some customers there are still getting busted for pot.

That is according to the Argus Leader, which reported last week that “officials with the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe said that more than 100 people who’ve been issued tribal medical marijuana identification cards have been arrested since the tribe opened South Dakota’s first-ever cannabis store last year.”

The tribe opened the dispensary on July 1, 2021, when the new law officially took effect. No other dispensaries opened on that official start date, however, creating a gray area between the state and tribe.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and her administration has said that the state would not recognize medical cannabis cards issued to individuals who are not members of the tribe.

According to the Argus Leader, “the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has issued about 8,000 medical marijuana cards to tribal and non-tribal members,” and “although several county- and city-level law enforcement agencies and state’s attorneys have eased up on arrests and prosecutions for possession of small amounts of marijuana all together, others, like the Flandreau Police Department are not honoring some tribal-issued medical cards.”

“They’re taking the cards and handing out fines,” Tony Reider, chairman of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, told the newspaper. “But most we don’t know about, because most people are just paying the fines.”

The continued arrests typify what has been a fraught 15 months since South Dakota voters passed a pair of measures in the 2020 election to dramatically reform the state’s marijuana laws.

Voters there approved both a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot, as well as an initiated measure to allow medicinal cannabis.

But only the medical law still stands, with the South Dakota Supreme Court ruling in November that the recreational amendment was unconstitutional, as it violated the state’s “one subject” requirement for constitutional amendments.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen ruled that Amendment A featured “provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes,” noting that the state constitution “not only includes a single subject requirement but also directs proponents of a constitutional amendment to prepare an amendment so that the different subjects can be voted on separately.”

The decision upheld a lower court’s ruling from earlier in the year, which came after Noem and a pair of law enforcement officials challenged the amendment.

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling on the day before Thanksgiving, Noem struck a celebratory note.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” she said in a statement at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

The Argus Leader reported that South Dakota taxpayers will be footing the $142,000 in legal costs associated with Noem’s recreational pot challenge –– an expense that the governor believes should be shouldered by the advocates behind the amendment.

For Noem, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, the cannabis dispute has represented a rare political misstep. A poll last year found that only 39 percent of South Dakota voters approve of her handling of the recreational pot matter, while 17.8 percent said they somewhat disapprove and 33.4 percent said they strongly disapprove.

Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to her overall approval rating of 61 percent.

The medical cannabis program, meanwhile, has slowly taken shape. Enrollment for eligible patients began in November, while state-recognized dispensaries may open later this year.

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Some law enforcement agencies in South Dakota are not honoring tribal-issued medical cards.
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