South Dakota’s highest court sided with the state’s governor today in declaring an amendment legalizing cannabis invalid. Amendment A, which passed with 54% support, would have legalized cannabis for anyone over 21.
Voters approved both medical and adult-use cannabis laws by ballot initiative last November. While the medical program went unchallenged, Governor Kristi Noem’s administration went to court to block Amendment A, the adult-use cannabis initiative. The state’s supreme court sided with Noem this afternoon.
Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, issued the following statement in response.
“We believe that this ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court is extremely flawed. The court has rejected common sense and instead used a far-fetched legal theory to overturn a law passed by over 225,000 South Dakota voters based on no logical or evidentiary support. The ruling states that Amendment A comprised three subjects — recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp legalization — and that South Dakotans could not tell what they were voting on when voting for Amendment A.
It’s a legal stretch and one that relies on the disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.
Furthermore, this reasoning is wrong for a number of reasons:
- As the dissent points out, there was no evidence of voter confusion. It’s unacceptable that the court would violate the ballot initiative process based on no actual evidence.
- It is clear voters understood that Amendment A was not solely a medical marijuana initiative given that only 54% of voters approved Amendment A while 70% of voters approved Measure 26 (an initiated measure that only addressed medical marijuana). If voters believed Amendment A was a medical marijuana-only initiative, there would not have been a 16-point gap in the election results.
- The assertion that South Dakota voters believed Amendment A was solely a hemp legalization initiative defies logic and reality. Furthermore, South Dakota had already enacted hemp legalization by the time voters approved Amendment A.
- Medical marijuana and hemp were mentioned in just three sentences in Amendment A. The rest of the initiative addressed recreational marijuana. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp are all versions of the same plant: cannabis.
The fact that the South Dakota Supreme Court took nearly seven months to issue a ruling on an election-related lawsuit is extremely problematic. This indefensible delay undermined the public’s faith in South Dakota’s elections, its system of government, and its judiciary. The court owes the people of South Dakota an explanation.
Finally, this ruling relied on Gov. Noem’s role in directing Colonel Miller to commence the litigation. The evidence for this is a mysteriously-timed executive order issued on January 8, 2021, nearly two months after the lawsuit was filed in court. The executive order directly contradicted a statement from Noem spokesperson Ian Fury, who said on November 23, 2020 that, “Gov. Noem did not ask Col. Miller or Sheriff Thom to bring the lawsuit.” This inconsistency has never been explained. Governor Noem owes the public an explanation. We should know whether the executive order issued in January was truthful.
We are as energized as ever to continue our work. We will not stop until cannabis is legalized in South Dakota.”
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) is a registered South Dakota statewide ballot question committee working to establish better marijuana laws for the people of South Dakota. SDBML led the campaign that passed Amendment A and Measure 26 in 2020, played a central role in the grassroots campaign to defend Measure 26 during the legislative session earlier this year, and provided fundraising and communications support to the Amendment A legal defense campaign.
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