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Voters approve legal marijuana in South Dakota

South Dakota voters just said yes to legalizing marijuana for recreational and medical purposes.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

South Dakota has voted to legalize marijuana.

The state’s Constitutional Amendment A, which voters approved on Election Day, legalizes marijuana possession and use for adults 21 and older. It also allows individuals to grow up to three plants if they live in a jurisdiction with no licensed marijuana retailers. And it allows distribution and sales, with a 15 percent tax. Local jurisdictions will be able to ban marijuana businesses within their borders.

Separately, South Dakota also legalized medical marijuana on Election Day — setting up a system that will let patients with debilitating conditions obtain the drug under state law.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But starting with President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has generally allowed states to legalize cannabis with minimal federal interference.

Before Election Day, 11 states and Washington, DC, had legalized marijuana, although DC doesn’t allow recreational sales. Change has moved quickly across the US: A decade ago, zero states allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.

A map of marijuana legalization laws in the US.

Supporters of legalization argue that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition: the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world. All of this, legalization advocates say, will outweigh any of the potential downsides — such as increased cannabis use — that might come with legalization.

Opponents, meanwhile, claim that legalization will create a huge marijuana industry that will market the drug irresponsibly. They point to America’s experiences with the alcohol and tobacco industries in particular, which have built their financial empires in large part on the backs of the heaviest consumers of their products. And they argue ending prohibition could result in far more people using pot, potentially leading to unforeseen negative health consequences.

In South Dakota, voters have sided with legalization supporters.

For more on the debate over marijuana legalization, read Vox’s explainer.