South Dakota Aims to Subvert Will of Voters on Legal Cannabis

Will South Dakota courts uphold the will of the people? Or the vested interests of cannabis prohibition?
Will South Dakota courts uphold the will of the people? Or the vested interests of cannabis prohibition? /

Members of South Dakota law enforcement have filed a lawsuit in an effort to prevent adult-use cannabis legislation from moving forward in the state, according to Dakota News Now.

During the Nov. 3 elections, South Dakota became the first state to approve both medical and adult-use cannabis simultaneously.

The adult-use measure, Amendment A, passed with 54 percent of voters in favor.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Nov. 20, 2020 by Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Rick Miller, challenges Amendment A on two fronts.

The first issue involves the state’s one-subject rule, which stipulates voters are allowed to amend only one subject at a time. “The plaintiffs argue Amendment A has five subjects: legalizing marijuana, regulating recreational marijuana, taxing marijuana, requiring the legislature to pass laws on hemp, and ensuring access to medical marijuana,” reports Dakota News Now.

It can be counter-argued, however, that these five points all fall under one subject: cannabis.

The second part of the lawsuit argues that the amendment violates South Dakota Constitution in that it is a revision, not an amendment. And revisions to the state’s constitution require a three-fourths vote from the state legislature.

“I’ve dedicated my life to defending and upholding the rule of law,” Thom said in a press release. “The South Dakota Constitution is the foundation for our government and any attempt to modify it should not be taken lightly. I respect the voice of the voters in South Dakota, however in this case I believe the process was flawed and done improperly, due to no fault of the voters.”

Ignoring the Will of the People?

The recently announced lawsuit appears to be part of a larger effort by state officials in South Dakota to derail the voice of voters.

Shortly after the Nov. 3 elections, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem spoke against both cannabis measures, medical and adult-use.

In a statement shortly after the election, Gov. Noem said:

“I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities. We need to be finding ways to strengthen our families, and I think we’re taking a step backward in that effort. I’m also very disappointed that we will be growing state government by millions of dollars in costs to public safety and to set up this new regulatory system.”

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

The statement is problematic in that it overlooks tax revenue estimates from legal cannabis as well as the harm reduction benefits gained by substituting cannabis in place of alcohol and opiates.

Noem also makes no mention of the $47+ billion annually spent by the U.S. in the ‘war on drugs’ when condemning the costs of cannabis legalization. She also seems to be turning a blind eye to the fact that more than two-thirds of Americans now say cannabis should be legal.

What’s more, Gov. Noem’s suggestion that cannabis is bad for families seems to play upon the outdated fear-based stigmas that had kept cannabis in the dark for so long.

What about the people who use cannabis to overcome their health issues, raise their mood, be more productive, and grow closer to their families? Or how about people who disapprove of the inherent racial injustice surrounding prohibition? Where are they in this conversation?

Oh, that’s right. They voted in favor of cannabis and now the state is attempting to subvert that.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws also issued a statement regarding the lawsuit:

“We are prepared to defend Amendment A against this lawsuit. Our opponents should accept defeat instead of trying to overturn the will of the people. Amendment A was carefully drafted, fully vetted, and approved by a strong majority of South Dakota voters this year.”

It should also be noted that the state is funding an unspecified portion of the lawsuit, according to the Rapid City Journal. Noem’s spokeperson Ian Fury told the publication: “The governor approved this because she took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. This is part of her duty as governor.”

Understanding the Vested Interests of Prohibition

Why are law enforcement officials trying to freeze out cannabis legalization? Follow the money.
Why are law enforcement officials trying to freeze out cannabis legalization? Follow the money. / Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

This is not the first time a state has tried to subvert the will of voters on the cannabis issue. In Nebraska, for example, a lawsuit (also filed by a local sheriff) successfully scrubbed a medical cannabis measure from this year’s election ballot.

Meanwhile, as reported by Marijuana Moment, a handful of other new cannabis states are bumping into their own legal challenges, but none of them seem to be as arduous as the situation in South Dakota.

Why is it that government leaders at all levels continue to resist cannabis?

They and a lot of their constituents are no doubt still afraid of cannabis, after nearly a century of reefer madness propaganda. Even in California, half of the state’s counties still have a ban on legal cannabis sales.

However, a quick Google search will reveal how prohibition is driven by money. Think about the industries that fear loss of revenue if they had to compete with cannabis.

For instance, Big Pharma has publicly donated to anti-cannabis campaigns.

Corporate giants from Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco only recently started backing cannabis legalization once they realized they could play in the industry.

Police, prison guards, and private prison unions have also lobbied for the continued prohibition of cannabis because of money. The need to go out and catch all those criminal pot smokers is what keeps their departments funded.

According to a 2019 report by the Human Rights Foundation, state and local governments spend roughly $30 billion each year fighting the ‘war on drugs’. This translates to bloated budgets which states are trying to preserve despite the will of the people, or the blatant issues and harms caused by prohibition.

South Dakota’s effort to sabotage the will of the people through a lawsuit based on flimsy rhetoric is simply history repeating itself – state officials trying to protect their pockets at the expense of cannabis freedom.

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