Overturned: South Dakota Supreme Court Surprises Cannabis Voters Day Before Thanksgiving

At least two of these founding fathers were fans of cannabis. South Dakota's governor? Not so much.
At least two of these founding fathers were fans of cannabis. South Dakota's governor? Not so much. / Image by VIT DUCKEN from Pixabay

Nov. 29, 2021 -- For months, South Dakota state reporters have waited for a legal ruling on the state’s recreational cannabis law.

That ruling finally came the day before Thanksgiving, when the South Dakota Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn the law and keep adult-use cannabis illegal.

The law initially passed as ballot initiative  ‘Amendment A’ by a 54 percent vote in November 2020 and has been in jeopardy from the outset, thanks to Gov. Kristi Noem.

While Noem was okay with the medical cannabis law also passed in Nov. 2020, she quickly criticized South Dakota voters over the adult-use cannabis issue, later teaming up with a local sheriff and a Highway Patrol superintendent to challenge the law in court.

Shortly after the 2020 elections, Noem made a statement about legal cannabis corrupting the state and ruining families:

“I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities,” she said.

“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.”

Instead of honoring the will of the people and examining/embracing the benefits of cannabis legalization, Noem did the opposite.

It appears that she has used her power and influence to enforce her own personal beliefs on the situation, attacking voter-fueled cannabis progress.

And on Nov. 24, 2021 – with most reporters out for Thanksgiving week – the SD Supreme Court ruled in favor of Noem’s challenge.

The argument is that the Amendment A ballot measure violated the state constitution by covering more than one subject – recreational cannabis, medical cannabis, and hemp – and that voters couldn’t have known what they were voting for.

Journalist Tom Lawrence writes, “Circuit Court Judge Christine Klinger, a Noem appointee, agreed, adding that it should have been ratified by a convention because of the broad sweep of the language.”

A Symphony of Shock and Disgust

Cannabis advocates across the state paused their holiday preparations to issue unequivocal condemnation of the court’s ruling.

“We believe that this ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court is extremely flawed,” noted Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.

“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.”

New Approach South Dakota’s Melissa Mentele, who has been leading the cannabis reform effort in SD for seven years, called the situation “shocking.”

Brendan Johnson, former U.S. attorney, also weighed in via Twitter:

“Today I share the frustration of hundreds of thousands of South Dakotans who had their votes thrown out,” he said.

In a subsequent post, Johnson added: “South Dakota voters weren't confused when they voted to legalize in the last election. Prediction: If politicians in Pierre fail to act, our measure will pass by a far greater % in 2022, and more than a few cannabis opponents will be shown the door.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Noem fairs in the state’s 2022 elections after this prohibitionist stunt she’s pulled.

Still Hope for Adult-Use Cannabis in SD

While Gov. Noem and her anti-cannabis minions try to sabotage the will of the people with a twisted, fine-tooth comb, state cannabis advocates are far from finished.

In addition to a new ballot initiative currently collecting signatures from across the state, top South Dakota lawmakers have officially recommended that the state legislature focus on an adult-use cannabis bill for 2022, as reported by Marijuana Moment.

Meanwhile, the state’s medical cannabis program continues to roll out, with the first medical cards printed and issued on Nov. 18, 2021.

And, notably, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has already been dispensing cannabis through its very own medical program since early July.

What’s more, according to Lawrence, state law enforcement agencies have declined to enforce cannabis laws this year, preferring to avoid the legal mess currently under way.

“What will they do in the coming weeks? Will they check people for medical marijuana licenses? Will they wait for the Legislature to act? Or will they look the other way until this is all sorted out?” Lawrence writes.

One thing is for sure, cannabis is one of the few issues most people can agree on these days.

What does that say about politicians who refuse to reconsider their outdated, prohibition mindsets?

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