Last month, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to nullify the voter-passed Amendment A to the state constitution, which would have legalized recreational cannabis.
In a 4-1 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that Amendment A violates the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments address only one subject. The court’s majority opinion found that the amendment addressed three separate issues:
“It is clear that Amendment A contains provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes,” Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote in the majority opinion.
Praising the decision, Governor Kristi Noem emphasized that it would not change how she implements a separate, voter-passed law legalizing medical marijuana, which is already legal.
“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said in a statement. “We do things right — and how we do things — matters just as much as what we are doing.”
Noem started the battle against the voter-approved amendment. The Republican governor has long stigmatized cannabis as a social ill, but her administration focused its arguments in court against “technical violations” to the state constitution.
Advocates for cannabis legalization have attacked the court’s decision as “extremely flawed” and based on “a disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.”
The overriding concern is that because the decision overturned the will of voters, it will dampen their ability to enact laws through the ballot box in the future.
“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,” Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said.
Next year, South Dakota marijuana advocates will attempt to bring recreational marijuana back to voters through another ballot measure. Lawmakers are also considering legalizing cannabis for adults in the upcoming legislative session. A 2020 Gallup Poll showed 68% of Americans favor legalization.