South Dakota’s Governor Blocks Voters on Legal Pot

South Dakota’s 2020 ballot initiative to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana was approved by its voters. In a predominantly Republican, conservative state like South Dakota, Amendment A’s success was remarkable because it won with an 8-point margin.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem however made it clear that Amendment A would not be accepted by the Republican Governor. Last fall the South Dakota Supreme Court definitively overturned it, ruling that the measure violated the “single subject” rule for constitutional amendments.

The court’s 4–1 decision did not affect Measure 26, which authorizes medical use of marijuana. But unless the state legislature independently implements the policy embodied in Amendment A, the ruling means supporters of recreational legalization will have to try again in 2022 with an initiative that addresses the legal objections.

Court accepted Amendment A’s main subject as legalizing recreational marijuana for those aged 21 years and over. It ruled that the provisions instructing legislators to allow medical marijuana use and industrial hemp cultivation addressed two other subjects.

It was found that Amendment A had not been challenged by law enforcement personnel. But it said Noem, who “ratified the commencement of this lawsuit” via an executive order, did have standing as governor. The lawsuit was successful because of Noem’s endorsement.

Noem seemed more driven by anti-pot prejudices that her determination to stop Amendment A than her dedication to the strict rules of the amendments to her state constitution. In deference to voters’ preferred policy, state legislators were more open to putting aside personal views about marijuana.

“In my head, [legalization is] inevitable because we’ve already seen the support from the public,” South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack (R–Butte) said in February 2021. “I didn’t vote for recreational marijuana, but my constituents did,” added state Rep. Greg Jamison (R–Lincoln). “Rarely do we get a chance to enact a law and….for sure know what our constituents think of that. This is what we have.

Noem threatened veto to any law that would legalize marijuana. Later, she suggested that she may be open to the possibility of decriminalizing low level marijuana possession.

Noem was not affected by the October poll showing that most voters opposed her intervention in legalization. A spokesperson for Noem stated in January that Amendment A supporters should be reimbursed by the state for any legal fees it incurred in order to reverse the initiative.