It has been more than a year since the new medical cannabis law in South Dakota officially took effect, but there are still no state-approved dispensaries serving patients.
That is about to change.
Next week, when Unity Rd. opens its doors in Hartford, South Dakota––a town of about 3,300 located just outside Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city––it will make history as the first state-licensed medical cannabis dispensary in the Mount Rushmore State.
“We were really pushing hard to get that number one on the door to be the first legal, state-issued license,” B.J. Olson, one of the co-owners of Unity Rd., told the Argus Leader newspaper. “That doesn’t happen, unless you have your foot on the gas from the beginning.”
“We bought the property, we began building the building with no piece of paper, and worst case, we decided we’re gonna build a beautiful structure to lease to somebody and best case, we’re going to be the first dispensary in the state,” said Adam Jorgenson, the other co-owner.
According to the Argus Leader, “Unity Rd. is a franchise and also has shops in Oklahoma and Colorado.”
Voters in South Dakota overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in 2020 that legalized medical cannabis treatment in the state.
The law officially took effect on July 1, 2021, well before the state had begun issuing licenses for would-be dispensaries. But members of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe opened a dispensary shortly after the official start date last summer, bringing tension between the tribe and the state.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and other state officials have said that they will not recognize medical cannabis cards issued to individuals who are not members of the tribe.
The Argus Leader reported that, as of February, “the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe [had] issued about 8,000 medical marijuana cards to tribal and non-tribal members,” and that, “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.”
The tribe said at the time that more than 100 people who had been issued tribal medical cannabis cards had been arrested since the dispensary opened last July.
Unity Rd. will “offer a number of products including flower, vape cartridges, topicals, pre-rolls and edibles,” according to the Argus Leader, although initially “only flower will be sold, but the business expects to add products in a couple of weeks.”
The state’s medical cannabis law has faced a sluggish rollout. As of April, there were barely 400 patients who had been enrolled in the program, while only 90 doctors statewide were allowed to approve the use of medical cannabis for their patients.
South Dakota voters also approved an amendment in 2020 that legalized recreational cannabis, but that law was ultimately overturned by the state Supreme Court after it drew a legal challenge by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
Noem, a possible 2022 GOP presidential contender, celebrated the ruling.
“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said 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.”
South Dakota will have another shot at legalizing recreational cannabis this fall, however, with a new measure qualifying for the November ballot.