In November 2020, over 54% of voters in South Dakota turned out to support a constitutional amendment to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in their state.
In an upsetting turn of events on Monday, a state circuit judge, appointed by Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R), has denied the measure. She stated that this legislation would have “far-reaching effects on the basic nature” of the state government, and that it is unconstitutional.
Judge Christina Klinger’s decision to overturn the amendment will initiate a long, hard road for cannabis activists in the state as they continue the battle for citizens’ rights to grow, license, and sell weed.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), headed by Brendan Johnson, attorney, told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that they will be pursuing an appeal to the state supreme court. Johnson has a vested interest, as he is one of leaders who have worked to make legalization a possibility in South Dakota.
SDBML has been capitalizing on the national trend of state decriminalization, using the successes of other states and the changing dynamics across the US about drug use, to help lend credibility to their state marijuana program.
Although federal law still prohibits pot sales and consumption, great strides have been made across the country to allow medical marijuana programs, hemp industry, and recreational use. Currently, only six states still classify marijuana as fully illegal–Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina. That 12% of the United States is a quickly dwindling number, as even more states are looking into medical marijuana legality.
The decriminalization process is spreading to the national level. As of December, the House has passed a bill that would set decriminalization policies at a federal level; although, the legislation does still need to get a majority vote in the Senate. While advocates are hopeful, there is still a lot of uncertainty.
The legalization process in South Dakota is drawing attention, as the measures proposed will constitute an intense change of policy. The proposed Amendment A, pushed by the SDBML, would make South Dakota stand out as the first state to simultaneously legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes.
Support for the measure was surprisingly taken up by both political parties before the election. Some South Dakotan republican lawmakers cited their support as a simple function: they uphold the rights of personal freedom, and citizen responsibility.
“We have a real problem here where we have criminalized an entire generation of South Dakotans, and we’re paying a price,” Johnson, of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told the Associated Press last year.
Unfortunately, governor Noem has publicly voiced her disapproval of the initiative, even with the garnished support by a majority of the citizens who showed up to vote. The fight against the efforts was led by two law enforcement officials: Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and the Highway Patrol superintendent, Col. Rick Miller, who filed a lawsuit against the amendment last November. Governor Noem declared the state would be covering the cost of all litigation fees.
The presiding judge Klinger, who had been appointed by the governor just the year before, declared the amendment violated the legal requirements which restricts such legislation to addressing a singular topic.
The proposed Amendment A did not address a single topic, she stated, as it covered taxes, business licensing and hemp cultivation. Klinger added that it also intruded on the powers of state lawmakers and the governor’s office by allowing a state agency to administer recreational marijuana.
Noem applauded Judge Klingers’ sentiments to the Argus Leader, saying it is a decision that “protects and safeguards our constitution.”
“I’m confident that the South Dakota Supreme Court, if asked to weigh in as well, will come to the same conclusion,” Noem said.
The supreme court will have a short window to decide to support or overrule those who think like Noem and Klinger, and it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If the Amendment is upheld, July 1st will be the earliest that any legal cannabis possession will be official.
It will be an unfortunate political climate indeed if 54% of state voters’ decisions are disregarded, and we wish the best for state advocates as they fight for their state’s rights. Stay tuned for more news about the battle for cannabis legalization in South Dakota throughout 2021.
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