Cannabis reform advocates in South Dakota are fighting a battle that could ultimately determine the state’s ballot initiative process. On Nov. 3, 2021, South Dakotans voted to pass Amendment A and Measure 26, legislation that would have legalized the recreational and medical use of cannabis respectively, making South Dakota the first state to pass both medical and recreational cannabis measures at the same time. Long before cannabis sales could start, however, a state circuit judge declared the amendment legalizing recreational cannabis unconstitutional in January and voided it.
With the state Supreme Court now considering whether or not the voter-passed initiative was unconstitutional, recreational cannabis advocates say the future of South Dakota’s voter initiative process is at risk. In their opening arguments to the Supreme Court, lawyers Brendan Johnson and Timothy Billion said the case is not just about cannabis but also about the future of the state’s ballot initiative process. They are currently representing several marijuana advocates in the state, including South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.
Soon after voters passed the initiative, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller, acting on behalf of state Governor Kristi Noem, and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom filed a lawsuit asking the court to void Constitutional Amendment A. Consequently, South Dakota Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger voided the amendment, declaring it to be unconstitutional. She stated that certain technicalities in the amendment were problematic, arguing that the amendment violated constitutional law that required constitutional amendments to address a solitary subject.
On top of legalizing recreational cannabis, she said that the amendment would make wide-ranging changes to the state government by giving the Department of Revenue the authority to manage the state’s cannabis industry. This was a big win for Governor Noem, who has long been an outspoken opponent of legal cannabis. She opposed the legalization efforts in the first place, and once the amendment was voided, she stated that she most likely wouldn’t sign any recreational cannabis legislation lawmakers sent to her desk this year.
Cannabis advocates announced that they would champion the cause themselves at the lower courts once state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg stated that his office would not take part in an appeal to overturn the Circuit Court’s ruling in a lower court. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, a major sponsor of the original legalization bill, has taken the lead in the appeal.
The lawyers representing the recreational cannabis advocates argue that voters have a “fundamental and sacred right” to decide the rights that their constitution guarantees them. While a date for oral arguments has not been set, they have approximately one week left to file their arguments with the court.
While South Dakota appears to have taken several steps backward on its journey to cannabis policy reform, other states are enjoying the innovations enabled by the creation of legal marijuana markets. For example, RYAH Group Inc. has created a popular medical education app called PotBot App, which helps users to match their treatment needs with the different medical cannabis products available.
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