Judge Rejects Voter-Approved Measure Legalizing Cannabis in South Dakota

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– A South Dakota judge ruled against a voter-approved amendment to the state’s constitution that was designed to legalize recreational cannabis in South Dakota. The lawsuit challenging Amendment A was filed by South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. According to local news outlet Argus Leader, “legal fees Miller’s role in challenging the amendment are being paid for by the state of South Dakota at the order of Governor Kristi Noem.”

In the ruling, Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger said the approved amendment defies the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments only address one issue. Klinger also claimed the measure would have created too great a disruption in the operations of South Dakota’s government including how business licensing, taxation, and hemp cultivation is handled.

“Amendment A is unconstitutional as it includes multiple subjects in violation of [the South Dakota Constitution] and it is therefore void and has no effect,” Klinger said in the ruling. “Furthermore, Amendment A is a revision as it has far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota’s governmental system. As a result, Amendment A was required to be submitted to the voters through the constitutional convention process set forth in [the South Dakota Constitution]. The failure to submit Amendment A through the proper constitutional process, voids the amendment and it has no effect.”


As expected, members of the cannabis industry were not pleased with the court’s ruling especially as the decision overturns an amendment that in November was approved by 54 percent of voters. 

“Legalization opponents cannot succeed in the court of public opinion or at the ballot box,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “Thus, they are now seeking to overturn election results in a desperate attempt to maintain cannabis prohibition. Whether or not one supports marijuana legalization, Americans should be outraged at these overtly undemocratic tactics.”

Ballot question committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws planned to challenge the ruling.”We disagree with the ruling and we are preparing our appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court,” the group said in a Facebook post.

Noem has been vocal in her opposition to just about all forms of cannabis legalization. In 2019, she threatened to veto a hemp legalization bill on the basis that it was recreational cannabis legalization in disguise.

“Legalizing industrial hemp legalizes marijuana by default,” Noem said at the time.

Before Amendment A was overturned, small possession amounts would no longer have been illegal in South Dakota starting July 1. This will no longer be the case unless Klinger’s ruling is overturned by a higher court. Noem seems to be counting on the state’s highest court agreeing with her.

“Today’s decision protects and safeguards our constitution,” Noem said. “I’m confident that South Dakota Supreme Court, if asked to weigh in as well, will come to the same conclusion.”