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South Dakota lawmakers craft proposal for recreational pot

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South Dakota lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults while repealing much of the state's new medical marijuana law.

The Adult-Use Marijuana Study Subcommittee, which has been studying the issue since June, voted to recommend a bill that would allow people over 21 to purchase up to 1 ounce (28 grams) of cannabis for recreational use. It would repeal most aspects of the medical marijuana law that voters passed last year, but still contain provisions for people under 21 to use marijuana for medical purposes.

The bill would still need to be cleared by a pair of legislative committees, the full Legislature next year, and the governor's desk to become law. But lawmakers' willingness to advance the issue showed a growing acknowledgment in the Republican-controlled Statehouse that recreational marijuana legalization has popular support.

“Do we want to step forward and regulate it and put forward a good plan,” Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin told the committee. “Or do we want to go against the will of the people who voted in the last election?”

The bill would ban public pot consumption and eliminate criminal charges for possessing any amount up to 4 ounces.

Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational pot for adults, but Republican Gov. Kristi Noem sued to challenge the measure for violating the state constitution. A circuit court judge struck the marijuana law down, but the state Supreme Court is weighing an appeal to that ruling. Advocates have also launched an effort to place a marijuana legalization proposal on the ballot next year.

As lawmakers crafted the bill a significant split emerged over whether it would allow people to cultivate cannabis in their homes. A pair of Republican senators who have pushed for recreational pot legalization tried to convince the subcommittee to allow cannabis plants to be grown in homes, but that provision was struck from the proposal.

Republican Sen. Michael Rohl said he opposed the bill as it stands, but voted to recommend it to keep the proposal debate alive.

“I think there (are) very few in the Senate that haven't known for awhile the direction the voters indicated," he said. "This is an attempt to bridge the House of Representatives closer with their own constituents.”

House lawmakers on the subcommittee opposed the provision to allow home-grown cannabis, with some arguing that it would fuel an underground pot market.

“The homegrown is a really big bite and I don’t think we quite have our arms around how it will work,” said Republican Rep. Mark Willadsen. “I would rather that we take baby steps.”

A committee studying both recreational and medical pot will consider the bill next week.

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