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3 more states could see marijuana legalization on November ballots • South Dakota Searchlight

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3 more states could see marijuana legalization on November ballots • South Dakota Searchlight


Nebraskan Crista Eggers is running up against a July 3 deadline. If she can get at least 87,000 names onto each of two petitions before then, she can put an initiative on the state’s November ballot that would legalize pot for medicinal purposes.

Marijuana legalization measure validated for Nov. 5 election

The petition effort is personal. Her 9-year-old son, Colton, has epilepsy and severe seizures, and medicinal cannabis can be prescribed to treat such conditions.

“I’m a caregiver to a child that needs medical cannabis access. Ninety-five percent of our people collecting [signatures] are Nebraskans who know someone who needs access and needs this issue on the ballot,” said Eggers, an Omaha resident and the campaign manager for Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.

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If the group is successful, Nebraska will join Florida and South Dakota in asking voters this fall whether to legalize some marijuana use. In Florida and South Dakota, where medical marijuana is already allowed, voters will be asked to legalize adult recreational use.

South Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for recreational and medicinal use in 2020, alongside a separate initiative legalizing medical marijuana. The constitutional amendment was later overturned by the state supreme court; the medical marijuana initiative went forward without a challenge. The 2022 election saw South Dakota voters reject another attempt to legalize recreational cannabis. This fall will mark the third straight election in South Dakota with a recreational marijuana measure on the ballot.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis products, and 24 plus the District of Columbia allow adults to use it recreationally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Cannabis is still illegal under federal law, but 74% of Americans now live in a state where marijuana is legal for either recreational or medical use according to the Pew Research Center, and 54% live in a place where it is legal for recreational use.

Many states, especially left-leaning ones, have legalized marijuana through legislation, but “there are some states where the state legislators still don’t want to touch this issue of cannabis legislation, particularly in more conservative parts of the country,” said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.

“That’s why it’s not a surprise when cannabis issues go through the ballot initiative process,” Kilmer said.

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In Kansas, where legislative efforts to legalize marijuana have repeatedly foundered since 2021, conservative legislators again this session blocked a measure to legalize medicinal use, with one Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Mike Thompson, saying the substance could “cause more suicides and human misery,” according to the Kansas City Star.

Kansas is one of the 24 states that don’t allow citizen-initiated ballot measures.

But the destigmatizing of marijuana use has advanced so far that even some conservative states have legalized it through legislative action: Since 2020, four of the five states to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes — Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia — have done so through the legislature.

Making it to the ballot

Nebraska is one of only three states — Idaho and Kansas are the others — where marijuana and all cannabis products, including CBD products, are illegal.

Nebraska legislators have shown little interest in changing course, Eggers said.

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To circumvent that legislative opposition, she needs signatures from 7% of the state’s 1.2 million voters to put the question on the ballot. She also needs signatures from 5% of registered voters from at least 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Along with Eggers, some 25 paid staff and 200 volunteers are helping with the effort.

Eggers and her group came close to getting a cannabis measure on the ballot in 2020, after collecting 200,000 signatures. However, the state’s Supreme Court invalidated the measure, saying that the petition violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot initiatives.

Biden administration to greatly ease marijuana regulations

The Supreme Court ruled that the petition would have required changes in several state laws, including those regarding possession, public use and insurance coverage.

A second attempt in 2022 was gathering steam when a major donor died in a plane crash that year.

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“A lot of money goes into collecting signatures, from filling up people’s gas so they can go county to county, printing petitions and the amount of manpower that goes into gathering signatures,” Eggers said. “The issue isn’t support. We have the support. It has truly come down to not having funding to hire people to help towards signature collection.”

Recreational cannabis

Last year, three states legalized pot recreationally. Voters in Ohio, a red state, approved a ballot measure, while lawmakers in the blue states of Delaware and Minnesota passed legislation.

In all, 13 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana legislatively.

The ballot initiative in Florida, which requires a supermajority of 60% to pass, is being backed by John Morgan, a lawyer and Democratic fundraiser who supported the successful 2016 effort to legalize medical marijuana with more than $8 million of his own money.

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes the measure. So do some in the state’s medical marijuana industry. Nick Garulay, CEO of My Florida Green, said he worries that legalizing recreational marijuana could bring more competition, and could make it “hard to separate those who want to use it recreationally from those who are sick and rely on cannabis for medication.”

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Easing federal marijuana rules: There’s still a long way to go

Rob Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School and an expert on drug law, agreed that in some cases, the passage of recreational cannabis can lead to a decline in medical cannabis patients.

But there isn’t enough data to definitively say how adult-use recreational cannabis has affected the medical market in the places that have legalized both medical and recreational cannabis, he said.

For Eggers, the month of June is crucial. As of June 10, she had about 65,000 signatures on each petition, about 30,000 short of the total she expects to need for each.

“We know this can get done, but there’s definitely an urgency over the next few weeks,” she said.

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“I call our campaign horrifically beautiful,” Eggers said. “It’s horrific we’ve been at this for such a long time for suffering Nebraskans. But beautiful because we’ve found support in almost all corners of the state.”

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South Dakota

Here's What I Know: The return of real polling in South Dakota

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Here's What I Know: The return of real polling in South Dakota


The polls are back.

It’s a byproduct of our short attention span, or a fascination with sports metaphors, but every election cycle we get drenched in polling.

This dude versus that dude. Up, down, sideways, trends, subsets, gender, race, age, etc.

Everything you’d want to know on this issue or that.

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It’s all quite fascinating.

And potentially dangerous.

I got my first insight into polling many years ago while working in Des Moines.

The late and legendary Tom Fogarty was a reporter for the Des Moines Register who worked on one of the most influential political polls in the country. The Iowa Poll covered more than politics, however, and had for decades by that point.

I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with Tom during the quiet moments in the Iowa Senate, where we both worked as reporters. I was young and learned a lot just watching him and reading his stories.

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He was smart, funny, a great writer and unimpressed with people in power. It was like getting a master’s degree in how to be a real reporter.

(He also pulled a masterful prank on me, related to the visit of then President Bill Clinton, a story that is retold in some circles to this day. But sadly, not here.)

What I learned from Tom about polling was the importance of the questions, how they are constructed, how the words you use matter.

I took that background into later jobs where I wrote about polls and then supervised them, working directly with professional pollsters to get the most-accurate results possible.

The world has changed immeasurably since those early days.

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There are myriad ways in which groups or politicians gauge sentiment. They use this information to guide their actions and to influence the public.

Which means that accuracy and credibility are more important than ever.

So I’ve been pleased to see the polling conducted in recent months by South Dakota News Watch. News Watch is a nonprofit newsroom founded by a couple of my former bosses at the Argus Leader and staffed by some former colleagues.

Forum Communications, the parent company of Sioux Falls Live, is a supporter and we use News Watch content on our site and the Mitchell Republic.

One of the reasons I’m happy to see News Watch taking up the mission is because of who they choose to do business with, specifically Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.

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That’s the same firm we used at the Argus Leader for many years, including through the highly contentious campaigns for U.S. Senate in the early 2000s.

They are thorough, professional and maintain incredibly high standards for independence.

It’s never an exact science, rather polling is just a snapshot of a moment in time. Many factors can and do influence the outcome.

The results have a margin of error, an important footnote when you’re examining the coverage of a poll. If there isn’t information on sample size, margin of error and methodology, don’t trust it.

Also, remember the further you dive into the numbers – the subgroups of geography, gender, age or race, etc. – the less accurate they become.

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There’s a lot of bad information out there, including pollsters experimenting with various digital methods to extract information. We’ve seen time and again wild claims that end up falling flat on Election Day.

I can say without hesitation that Mason-Dixon was solid in service of our reporting and believe them to be so today.

We’ve recently published stories from News Watch on their latest round of polling.

We’ve seen results on ballot measures related to abortion, the sales tax on groceries, recreational pot and open primaries.

The results have prompted responses from politicians and commentators, some dire warnings and other exaltations of glee.

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That’s not to say things won’t take a turn.

Stu Whitney, investigative reporter for South Dakota News Watch.

Contributed

The questions on this year’s ballot have major implications for how South Dakota is run. Direct democracy has been part of the collective heritage in this state since the early days.

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While recent years have seen increasing efforts to thwart voter influence in this way, it remains a powerful tool for change in a state where change is rare currency.

News Watch has stepped into a vacuum of polling in South Dakota. What was once the purview of daily newspapers and broadcasters had fallen into a hole of neglect.

I found it notable enough that I rang up Stu Whitney, my former colleague and reporter for News Watch.

Whitney said working with Mason-Dixon has history in the state and the ability to track trends – such as approval ratings for the state’s top politicians – over time. News Watch partners with the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota to produce the polling.

“It seemed natural in 2024 with such an impactful election, to gauge some of the candidate races but also the ballot measures,” Whitney told me. “Not just the numbers, but to get inside the polling numbers in South Dakota and talk to both sides and get at some of the intricacies of what the impact would be if a measure were to pass.”

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Polling gives us a guidepost, a starting point for digging into the public consciousness on an issue.

All of us live in a bubble. It’s easy to let yourself plunge down the waterslide of assumption, that what your circle of friends believes is true reflects the facts on the ground.

It’s not always so.

In fact, it’s rarely so.

A well-executed measure of public opinion, we hope, is fodder for a deeper discussion about the issue or candidate at the center of the question.

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Do South Dakotans, for instance, support stringent restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion?

Current poll results would suggest no. Why is that?

Should the state reform the sales tax when it comes to consumables – a.k.a. groceries – as proposed on the November ballot?

The News Watch poll indicates that residents do support that.

It’s the next question, the follow-up discussion, that matters, Whitney said.

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“Regardless of the feedback, it’s important to enlighten people on these issues,” he said. “When you see the talk about turnout, the low voter engagement, this is going to be on the November ballot and it’s going to affect your life. We want to give you as much information as possible to go to the polls with. Anyone who reads them will see there is not just pure poll numbers, there is perspective in there as well.”

News Watch has plans to continue polling through this election cycle and beyond. There’s a lot we can learn, not just the head-to-head nature of electoral politics, but what’s at the core of our beliefs in South Dakota.

I’m excited to learn more.





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More than 200 people suing South Dakota for Hideaway Hills sinkhole

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More than 200 people suing South Dakota for Hideaway Hills sinkhole


RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) – Imagine waking up one day to a large sinkhole right outside your house.

For some residents of Hideaway Hills, that’s exactly what happened in April 2020 when a sinkhole formed revealing an abandoned gypsum mine.

Four years later, more than 200 people are involved in a lawsuit against the State of South Dakota and are seeking $60 million in damages.

Since 2020, the sinkhole in the Hideaway Hills neighborhood in Black Hawk has led to anger and fear.

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“There’s no guarantee that a sinkhole won’t open under a school bus or somebody’s bedroom or anything else that’s out there. They’re also afraid they’re going to lose their utilities and they’re going to have to move,” said Kathleen Barrow an attorney with Fox Rothschild LLP.

Now, there is a class action lawsuit against the state of South Dakota as more than 200 people are claiming the area to be too dangerous to live in.

“To the degree that there was an incorrect or inadequate reclamation which is certainly one of the things we’re alleging, it can only be attributable to the state,” said Barrow.

There are currently 12 homes in an evacuation zone and a total of 158 homes are threatened due to their foundations having nothing stable to sit on.

Barrow believes more homes will be added to the evacuation zone.

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“Every time it rains, you get small collapses and subsidence’s and that affects the structures of the homes,” said Barrow.

She feels empathy for those who have lost their homes because of the sinkhole.

“I wouldn’t know what to do because I wouldn’t have the means to buy another house and just vacate the one I’m in. Not very many of us would, but nobody should be living out there, unfortunately, because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Barrow.

Barrow says a hearing is expected at some point this summer and a trial is set for damages next spring.

See a spelling or grammatical error in our story? Please click here to report it.

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An anti-abortion group in South Dakota sues to take an abortion rights initiative off the ballot

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An anti-abortion group in South Dakota sues to take an abortion rights initiative off the ballot


An anti-abortion group in South Dakota has sued to block an abortion rights measure from the November ballot.

In its complaint filed Thursday, Life Defense Fund alleged various wrongdoing by the measure’s supporters, as well as invalid signatures and fraud. The group seeks to disqualify or invalidate the initiative.

In May, Secretary of State Monae Johnson validated the measure by Dakotans for Health for the Nov. 5 general election ballot. The measure’s supporters had submitted about 54,000 signatures to qualify the ballot initiative. They needed about 35,000 signatures. Johnson’s office deemed about 85% of signatures as valid, based on a random sample.

Life Defense Fund alleged Dakotans for Health didn’t file a required affidavit for petition circulators’ residency, and that petitioners didn’t always provide a required circulator handout and left petition sheets unattended. Life Defense Fund also objected to numerous more signatures as invalid, and alleged petitioners misled people as to what they were signing.

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“The public should scrutinize Dakotan for Health’s comments and carefully consider its credibility. In the end, the Court will determine whether such unlawful conduct may result in the measure being included on the ballot,” Life Defense Fund attorney Sara Frankenstein said in an email Monday.

Dakotans for Health called Life Defense Fund’s lawsuit “a last-ditch effort to undermine the democratic process.”

“They have thrown everything they could, and now the kitchen sink, to stop the voters from weighing in this November. We are confident that the people of South Dakota are going to be able to make this decision, not the politicians, come this November,” co-founder Rick Weiland said in a statement Friday.

The measure would bar the state from regulating “a pregnant woman’s abortion decision and its effectuation” in the first trimester, but it would allow second-trimester regulations “only in ways that are reasonably related to the physical health of the pregnant woman.”

The constitutional amendment would allow the state to regulate or prohibit abortion in the third trimester, “except when abortion is necessary, in the medical judgment of the woman’s physician, to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman.”

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South Dakota outlaws abortion as a felony crime, except to save the life of the mother, under a trigger law that took effect in 2022 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade.

The measure drew opposition from South Dakota’s Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year. The Legislature approved a resolution officially opposing the measure, and it passed a law allowing petition signers to withdraw their signatures from initiative petitions. The latter is not expected to affect the measure going before voters.

Life Defense Fund is also seeking to ban Dakotans for Health and its workers from sponsoring or circulating petitions or doing ballot initiative committee work for four years.

South Dakota is one of four states – along with Colorado, Florida and Maryland – where measures to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution will come before voters in November. There are petition drives to add similar questions in seven more states.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the nationwide right to abortion two years ago, there have been seven statewide abortion-related ballot measures, and abortion rights advocates have prevailed on all of them.

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Dura reported from Bismarck, North Dakota. Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this story from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.



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