The support recreational marijuana got from South Dakota voters in 2020 went up in smoke this year. South Dakotans have rejected Initiated Measure 27, which sought to decriminalize the use of marijuana for kicks, by a vote of 47% for to 53% against.
In 2020, South Dakotans approved a stronger, broader marijuana legalization measure, Amendment A, 54% to 46%. (The courts blocked Amendment A, forcing marijuana advocates to try again this year with IM 27.) IM 27’s seven-point slide to doom seems to result partly from lower turnout. We expect midterms to draw fewer voters than Presidential elections, and indeed, the total votes cast in the 2022 general appear to be down 17% from the 2020 general. However, nearly 62,000 fewer people showed up to vote aye on IM 27 than voted aye on Amendment A two years ago. The no-shows in the IM 27 nay column compared to A in 2020 were only 7,400. These results suggest that marijuana legalization enjoys more support among less-engaged voters who show up for Presidential elections but skip the midterms.
Initiated Measure 27 failed to capture any of the initiative mojo that I suggested last month could thwart the predictions of pessimistic polls. IM 27 sought a gentler legal change than the big constitutional protection of marijuana in Amendment A; conventional wisdom says voters are more willing to change the law than to change the constitution to achieve a specific policy objective. IM 27 also could have capitalized on voter outrage at seeing another of their initiatives thwarted by Republican intervention (see also IM 22, the Anti-Corruption Act, 2016). But neither factor manifested itself in the IM 27 vote.
Opponents of recreational marijuana may now justifiably claim that the voters’ approval of Amendment A in 2020 was a fluke, and that the general sentiment of South Dakota voters, expressed in multiple previous elections and now in 2022, is that South Dakota is not prepared to legalize recreational marijuana.