It is the iconic event of rebel, cool, outlaws and independence, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. About a half million people are excepted to gather this August in South Dakota, down from 700K+ in 2019. The 10 day/10 night rider celebration includes concerts, the Budweiser Clydesdales, pub crawls, a ceterans event, 5k, and more along with a big nose thumb to the man. The organizers held it during COVID daring anyone to stop them. But what about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and marijuana?
The first rally was held by Indian Motorcycle riders in August 1938, by the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club. The club still owns and operates the tracks, hillclimb, and field areas where the rally is centered. The first event was called the “Black Hills Motor Classic.” The Jackpine Gypsies were inducted to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1997. The focus of a motorcycle rally was originally racing and stunts. In 1961, the rally was expanded to include the Hillclimb and Motocross races. This could include half-mile track racing (the first year in Sturgis, there were 19 participants), intentional board wall crashes, ramp jumps and head-on collisions with automobiles.
The Sturgis Rally has been held every year including COVID, with the only exceptions during World War II. Harley-Davidson still rules but not with the majority it did several years ago. Rally data gathered by a team from Texas A & M University said that 66% of all 2022 rally attendees owned a Harley-Davidson.
Cannabis in South Dakota is legal for medical use as of July 1, 2021, having been legalized by a ballot initiative on November 3, 2020. Prior to then, cannabis was fully illegal, with South Dakota being the only U.S. state which outlawed ingestion of controlled substances. Governor Kristi Noem opposed marijuana legalization, saying she supports medical marijuana only after it is federal legal and the FDA oversees it. She has fought a bitter fight against legalization.
Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin, where Sturgis is located, says his deputies are generally looking past enforcing possession of small amounts of marijuana. “If it’s a small amount, we’re just overlooking it and saying, ‘Hey, get rid of it,’” Merwin said. “If it’s big enough for us to worry about, then we’re arresting them.”
Sturgis allows wine and beer in event cups throughout the event, but monitoring weed is a bit different. This year there are over a half dozen cannabis dispensaries right the town’s main strip. Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin, meanwhile, said open containers may cause more problems than normal. But the sheriff doesn’t “perceive it being a huge deal.”
Vapes, gummies and ointments for sore legs and backs abound, still discreetly. And you walk around get a gentle whiff of cannabis.
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Motorcycle culture exists on the margins of mainstream culture and the stereotype imagines all biker are rebels. Sturgis Motorcycle rally brings people together and weaves community for biker. Not unlike those who use marijuana.