Voters? We don’t care about stinking voters! That seemed to be the attitude in the Mount Rushmore State last month when the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a controversial lower court ruling that overturned a voter-passed constitutional amendment that would have legalized recreational cannabis use.
The initiative, “Amendment A”, was decisively approved by voters in the November 2020 elections; a big win in what is typically a conservative state. Moreover, its sister “Measure 26” authorizing medical cannabis was passed by an even bigger margin of voters: 70 percent. But Governor Kristi Noem was never a fan, and Amendment A was quickly challenged in court for violating a rule that constitutional amendments could only focus on one single subject.
How to explain this technicality? By a 4-1 margin, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that Amendment A covered three distinct subjects: recreational cannabis, medical cannabis, and hemp. Backers of the Amendment, as well as dissenting Justice Scott Myren, saw the Amendment as “a comprehensive plan for all phases of legalization, regulation, use, production, and sale of marijuana and related substances.” They also unsuccessfully argued that voters were not confused by the Amendment, and had the opportunity to vote against Amendment A while voting for the Measure 26 medical cannabis initiative.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the organization that campaigned for legalization in the state, stated that, “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. It’s a legal stretch and one that relies on the disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.
“The assertion that South Dakota voters believed Amendment A was solely a hemp legalization initiative defies logic and reality. 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.”
“We are as energized as ever to continue our work. We will not stop until cannabis is legalized in South Dakota.”
Which means that SDBML is currently collecting signatures for another vote in 2022 on a simplified Amendment A that could not be overturned in court. Their goal is to collect 25,000 signatures, and so far they have over 15,000 with signing events and locations all through the state. Governor Noem has begun to implement a medical program, and the hope is that after November 2022 recreational use will become the law of the land as well.