Months after South Dakota voters passed Amendment A, moving to legalize adult-use cannabis in the GOP-controlled state, Republican lawmakers continue attempting to overturn the will of their constituents.
Pot Legalization Battle Continues in South Dakota
On April 28th, the South Dakota Supreme Court heard final arguments for the adult-use marijuana debate that has been stretching on for months. Gov. Kristi Noem has remained adamant in her administration’s efforts to scale back and delay the measures passed by South Dakota voters back in November, even threatening to push back plans for a medical marijuana program from July 2021 to July 2022.
However, those attempts were scrapped in a compromise that scaled back the reach of the program – preventing at-home cultivation, use by patients under the age of 21, and possession of more than one ounce of medical marijuana. Since then, South Dakota’s Department of Health has begun requesting proposals for patient registry options and licensing systems for the opening of the program.
Many advocates of cannabis law reform have been critical of the Noem administration’s continued push to derail medical and adult-use marijuana plans. Melissa Mentele, the Executive Director of New Approach South Dakota, called Gov. Noem’s attempts, “harmful to patients and disrespectful to the people of South Dakota.”
Amendment A, the approved measure outlining the legalization of adult-use cannabis in South Dakota, has come under even more fire from the opposition. Rick Miller, a South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Noem administration – arguing that the legislation is unconstitutional.
The case contends that the amendment unlawfully raises the Department of Revenue – the agency assigned the duties of formulating regulations and licensing requirements – to a level of power indistinguishable from a “fourth branch of government”.
In state circuit court, Miller’s legal team argued that, “Amendment A will have significant and lasting effects on [South Dakota’s] constitution if it’s allowed to stand,” and Judge Christina Klinger agreed, striking down the measure.
“Amendment A is a revision as it has far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota’s governmental system,” ruled the circuit judge, who was appointed by Gov. Noem back in 2019.
Supporters of marijuana legalization quickly appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Representation for advocate groups like New Approach South Dakota and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws warned the Supreme Court justices of, “the damage that could be done, for the first time in [South Dakota] history, we have a court that literally throws out 417,000 votes that were cast on a piece of legislation,” and what that would mean for future ballot measures.
When South Dakotans initially passed the measure, an adult-use program was primed to be enacted on July 1st, 2021 – the same day as the state’s medical marijuana program. Now the entirety of the adult-use legalization amendment is in jeopardy, with the GOP-controlled Supreme Court set to make the final call.
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