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40 Days to Circulate Plan B Marijuana Amendment Petition Would Require 56K Signatures, $1.2M

South Dakota’s marijuana advocates promised in July to wage a new initiative petition drive to put full cannabis legalization on the ballot again if the South Dakota Supreme Court failed to restore Amendment A, the marijuana measure voters approved in 2020 but which Governor Kristi Noem killed with a lawsuit last winter. The Supreme Court still hasn’t issued a ruling on Amendment A, though they could be getting close: last Wednesday, September 8, the Court ruled on Paweltzki v. Paweltzki and Paweltzki, an ugly and complicated family business dispute that started in 2012. Justices heard arguments in that case on April 27; they heard arguments on Amendment A the next day. So… any day now, right?

Amidst the uncertainty over when and how the Supreme Court will rule on their 2020 initiative, marijuana advocates still can’t launch their new Plan B initiative petitions. Their petitions weren’t even posted for public review on the Secretary of State’s website until maybe last week. The Legislative Research Council’s comments to the sponsors on their four initiatives (two amendments, two laws) are dated July 26, and LRC director Reed Holwegner apparently cc’d Secretary of State Steve Barnett and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, but the Secretary of State didn’t stamp the LRC comments as received until August 31.

The Secretary of State’s late receipt and posting of these draft initiatives and LRC comments has no impact on the sponsors’ petition timeline. If the sponsors received the LRC comments on Monday, July 26, and if they did they kind of swift and sure legal work I would expect from sponsor Brendan Johnson, they could have transmitted four final drafts to the Attorney General on Tuesday, July 27. The Attorney General then has 60 days to review them and prepare titles and explanations. (2021 Senate Bill 123’s additional 20-day delay doesn’t kick in until November 1.) That deadline would be September 25, but that’s a Saturday, so the Attorney General could wait until Monday, September 27 to respond. Sponsors must then quickly paste the A.G.’s language onto their petitions and submit them along with sponsor affidavits and circulator handouts to the Secretary of State’s approval. Surely the Secretary of State would recognize that time is of the essence and would approve those documents within 24 hours, allowing the marijuana petitioners to hit the streets with petitions on Tuesday, September 28.

Under that best-possible timeframe, marijuana petitioners would have only 40 days to collect 33,921 signatures for whichever version of their amendment petition, long or not quite as long, they choose to circulate. It’s actually 41 days from September 28 to the petition deadline of Monday, November 8, but the sponsors need at least that final day to get their thousands of petition sheets together and haul them to Pierre.

Amendment A sponsors had from September 11 to November 4, 2019, to circulate that proposal’s petition. In those 53 days (reserve the last day for packing and delivery!), Amendment A’s team collected 53,400 signatures, over 1,000 signatures a day, with a calculated error rate (signatures of folks not registered to vote in South Dakota, signatures missing voter info, signatures spoiled by notary errors…) of 31.26%.

Similarly productive circulators this year could gather 40,300 signatures in 40 days. Similarly sloppy circulators would spoil 12,600 of those signatures, leaving only 27,700 valid signatures, more than 6,200 shy of the required 33,921.

If marijuana advocates are going to circulate an initiated amendment petition in just 40 days this fall and successfully place that measure on the ballot, they’ll have to collect signatures even faster than they did in 2019. That kind of rush likely means a higher error rate, requiring even faster collection of even more signatures. Assume a 40% error rate from faster work, and amendment sponsors would have to collect more than 56,500 signatures, or over 1,400 signatures each day.

If a good circulator can collect 20 signatures an hour (I welcome your estimates of the best possible performance, factoring in location, pedestrian flows, and rejection rates), sponsors need at least nine circulators working eight hours a day every single day of the circulation period.

In 2019, sponsors spent $16.87 per signature to make the Amendment A petition drive succeed. Given the tighter labor market, higher costs, and extra challenges of getting people to stop and talk to a stranger while safely circulating a petition during a pandemic, plus the challenge of starting and conducting a petition in 25% less time, I conservatively guesstimate that per-signature costs would be 25% higher this fall. $16.87 per signature, times 125%, times 56,500 signatures… that’s $1.19 million.

Amendment A sponsors South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws ended 2020 with $749,585.44 in the bank. They’ve probably burned up some fraction of that sum on lawyering against Kristi Noem. But even if they’ve only spent $100K on ten months of lawyering before state circuit and Supreme courts, they still need to raise nearly a half-million more to cover immediate costs of a crash petition drive.

The timeline is not as dire if the marijuana backers choose to circulate one of their initiated law petitions. Thanks to the latest court victory by SD Voice (yeah, that’s my ballot question committee, fighting to protect the initiative and referendum process for all comers), marijuana advocates have until May 3, 2022, to circulate petitions to change state law instead of changing the South Dakota Constitution. That’s 163 days to circulate a petition before boxing up all those papers and hauling them to Pierre on May 3. Keep it neat: take Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s off, plan 160 days of circulating, and that’s four times as much time to collect half as many signatures as the constitutional amendment would require. Assume the same sloppy 31.26% error rate from Amendment A in 2019, at least not worsened by the rush an amendment petition drive would take, and initiated law petitioners would need at least 24,700 signatures, or roughly 160 signatures a day. Assume the same costs as above, and that initiated law petition drive costs $520,000, which South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws may still have in the bank, if their lawyers haven’t gone ape on billing.

Putting marijuana on the ballot again in 2022 as a constitutional amendment will require a really heavy lift, faster and more costly than any recent statewide petition drive in South Dakota. Putting marijuana on the ballot in 2022 as a proposed law rather than a proposed amendment would be much easier, but sponsors would run the risk that the 2023 Legislature could repeal their initiated law.

And the terrible thing is, marijuana advocates still don’t know if they need to invest their time and treasure in a petition drive. The South Dakota Supreme Court could rule tomorrow (I just checked the UJS website one more time—no ruling posted today!) that Amendment A is legal, obviating the need for the Plan B petition drive… or the Supreme Court could continue to deliberate, forcing the sponsors to spend big money to flood the state with circulators on September 28, only to receive a favorable ruling from the court late in October, thus wasting their half-million-plus expenditure.

But let’s not think about that dread prospect. Instead, let’s be pessimoptimists: Republicans appointed all five Justices; Noem appointed two of them. There’s no way the Court will rule against the Republican Governor and rule for Amendment A. Therefore, sponsors, get ready to launch Plan B on September 28!


  1. kurtz 2021-09-13 18:32

    Sturgis is considering a municipal cannabis retail dispensary to mirror its liquor store.

    Having lived in the Black Hills for nearly thirty years, twenty two of them in Lawrence County it’s not surprising that the county commission there is proposing to take bids for a single dispensary despite a Planning and Zoning Commission plan for three but where it would be located remains a mystery. A government-owned store next to the police department in Spearditch is not impossible.

    Meade County, home of a Veterans Administration medical center and to the infamous Sturgis Rally, is also planning a single dispensary that will cost an applicant a whopping $125,000 so expect Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff to snatch that up. The county has yet to pass an ordinance for licenses to a grow/op, a testing lab or a cannabis product manufacturing facility. The Sturgis City Council has approved two dispensaries.

    Rapid City’s Common Council is proposing fifteen dispensaries for therapeutic cannabis. Longtime Rapid City Republican catholic lobbyist Jeremiah Murphy is representing Big Dope during negotiations so expect municipal dispensaries to have to buy from a single no bid supplier, probably New York-based Columbia Care.

    Butte County is considering up to $25,000 for an application fee and a dispensary could be run by the City of Belle Fourche. A municipal dispensary could also happen in Fall River County but in a southern Black Hills town named for a war criminal an application will cost $50,000. Tourist trap Keystone has approved two dispensaries. The Summerset City Council allows for one dispensary.

    There is no relationship between the state’s therapeutic cannabis program and Native Nations Cannabis on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Nation which is very different from states like Washington that operate with a compact. East River, Native Nations is struggling to keep up with demand.

  2. grudznick 2021-09-13 18:48

    Can you imagine the stoned tourists, all toked up, standing there looking at Mt. Rushmore saying “Wow, man, those are some really big heads. heh. heh.” A legion of pot-heads in the cafe up there, sitting around getting so mellow and ripe that they rot.

  3. ArloBlundt 2021-09-13 19:27

    Well..Mr. G there is big money to be made here. I expect our respected leaders of business and industry, conservative Republicans to the core, to become Mega-Dealers in Cannabis and any other perception altering substances they can get legalized following their cornering of the market. “Ain’t that America, Land of the Free.”-John Mellancamp

  4. grudznick 2021-09-13 19:48

    You are probably righter than right, Mr. Blundt. The smart rich always find ways to get richer, usually off of people not as smart.

  5. John 2021-09-13 20:03

    Remember the justices at election retention time.

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-09-13 20:13

    Columbia Care’s stock has fallen from $9.60 to $4.70 in three months.

    No wonder Murphy’s on them like ticks on a dog.

    SD is following the CA model, which allows middle-man, billionaire corporations to underpay growers and overcharge consumers.

    California’s Black Market weed business is stronger than it was, before legalization.

    Cannabis users have a higher intelligence quotient than alcohol users and will always seek out the best product at the best price.

    The same growers are still the same dealers and their customers are just a happy as ever, with the same old bargains.

    PS: grudznick. Your reverse psychology (demeaning pot heads) was a big mover in getting the herb legalized.

    Congratulations on a job well done.

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-09-13 20:43

    Jezz Grudz are you talking about Mr. Dale?

  8. ArloBlundt 2021-09-13 20:52

    Well…Porter is correct…I assume we will see a pot selling structure much like, if not identical to our booze selling structure with all retail establishments legally required to buy their product from a couple legislatively approved wholesalers, perhaps on west river, one east and the wholesalers will split up their franchise of various manufacturers and have exclusive rights to that product in the state. In other words, only Sioux River Doofus Weed Distributors will sell Maui Powee while Mile High Smiles Inc. will sell Acupulco Gold, etc. These monopolies will be like Electric Utilities, with assured profit margins and no competition within their service area.

  9. Donald Pay 2021-09-13 21:49

    Yup, only the big boys who pay off politicians will be allowed to sell in SD. Those without $$$ to give to the Republican Party can go fishing. This will be SD corruption at its best, and why the prudent vote was to vote no on legalization. You can’t have sin in South Dakota without paying off the big sin lobbies who pay off the Republicans. I don’t use drugs, but I prefer the black market drug lords, actually. They are far more honest.

  10. jerry 2021-09-13 22:08

    Pretty much nailed it Mr. Pay “I don’t use drugs, but I prefer the black market drug lords, actually. They are far more honest.” Prohibition always makes the high a little higher.

  11. ArloBlundt 2021-09-13 22:09

    Well…Donald, just think what it will be like in Pierre when the Pot Wholesalers host a Legislators Party like the booze distributors do with all the free product you can consume available to the invited guests. Milo Fessbender (R-Cravens Corner) and LeRoy Leersma (R-Rumpus Ridge) running amok down Euclid Avenue, wearing headphones, drooling, and listening to Lawrence Welk. “Never heard an accordion sound so good.”

  12. Porter Lansing 2021-09-13 22:23

    The first several years of legalized pot in Colorado, every store had to grow their own, a license holder could only own one store, and the owner had to have been a Colorado resident for at least three years. (i.e. Bob Marley’s family had a member move to CO and wait three years.)

    The fee for a license is still $5000. $50,000 is graft.

    Those regs set the stage for hundreds of different marijuana strains and spread the wealth.

    Lots of self made millionaires and still zero billionaire corporations involved.

    SD has gone down the wrong road but what would you expect from greed merchant Republicans?

  13. M 2021-09-14 06:15

    Grudz, you watch too many Cheech and Chong movies. You’re most likely around people in public that are stoned all the time. You just can’t tell because it’s like alcohol. When a person drinks one beer in one hour, there’s not too much notice behaviorally, yet two to three in an hour and it impairs driving. Pot is like that as well and it comes in different strengths like alcohol. Drink one shot of my Mom’s homemade schnapps and you ain’t driving but you sure gain an appetite for roast beef and mashed potatoes just like with some strains of marijuana. There are some strains that put you to sleep and others that wind you up and help you focus.

    There is probably a strain of marijuana that fits every individual’s needs. I’m convinced there’s even one just for you Grudz. When it’s legal, you should try it.

  14. M 2021-09-14 06:38

    You guys are all right about how SD is purposefully doing this wrong because it will benefit the big guys as usual. $125,000 vs $5,000. WOW that’s robbery. The only hope is that the feds legislate FAST to legalize pot and then people in SD can drive to any other state to buy it. The alcohol industry has some excellent lobbyists. Plus, alcohol distribution is in the hands of only one family in the geographically huge area where I live and I’m guessing that this family is one of the wealthiest in the state just from distributing massive amounts of alcohol. I’m hoping that with the legalization of pot, there will be less alcohol sales.

    Did I mention that this area hosts fishing tournaments, lots of hunters and fishermen, rodeos, derbies etc.? MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF ALCOHOL are consumed. I’d rather they smoke a joint and chill.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-09-14 07:51

    Everyone here is leaping well ahead of the legal curve. Amendment A remains suspended; absent a favorable ruling from the SD Supreme Court in the next two weeks, marijuana advocates will need to hit the streets with their petitions to call another statewide vote and then fund another expensive statewide campaign. Will Woodruff, Murphy, and the other Big Dope players contribute to that campaign?

  16. kurtz 2021-09-14 07:59

    “The panel’s final vote came at about 4:20 p.m.” Mercer.

  17. John Dale 2021-09-14 09:02

    “Cannabis users have a higher intelligence quotient than alcohol users and will always seek out the best product at the best price.”


    Porter really said something insightful, here.

    In fact, I would say when the endocannabinoid system is saturated, consciousness becomes more potent in general when not dulled by alcohol or tainted product or engineered product (heavy Indica) or some other debilitating condition.

    John Dale doesn’t want to take pills update: I got my Doctor’s note, but I have yet to secure any product. Therefore, I sit in pain with three serious back injuries. Just waiting.

    It’s governor Noem’s and President Trump’s biggest mutual failing. Such a low-hanging fruit.

  18. Porter Lansing 2021-09-14 09:46

    John Dale sez, “Therefore, I sit in pain with three serious back injuries. Just waiting.”

    What a crock.
    We all know how many trips you make to Colorado.
    Deep State put a GPS tracker on your car two years ago.

  19. Porter Lansing 2021-09-14 09:49

    Cory. If you could get over your stubborn German attitude and accept that petition gathering has no state borders, you could well get a $250,000 job selling petition services across America.

    Rarely have I heard someone with your expertise and salesmanship in the field.

    Oh, well.

    You’ll come around.

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