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The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a voter-approved initiative to legalize marijuana is invalid on procedural grounds, a major blow to activists who have been waiting months for the court’s decision. However, proponents are now pursuing a two-pronged plan to implement the reform over the next year.

In a 4-1 vote, the judges upheld a District Court ruling that found the 2020 vote to be in violation of the state’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments, which means it covers too much ground and is not focused enough to to meet the electoral standard.

The lawsuit was officially filed by two law enforcement officers but was funded with taxpayers’ money donated by the government of Governor Kristi Noem (R).

Today’s decision does not affect my government’s implementation of the 2020 voter-approved medical cannabis program. This program started earlier this month and the first cards have already been issued to eligible persons. Learn more at https://t.co/Nm0GxQ4qL4

– Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) November 24, 2021

The judges “found that the provisions of Amendment A covered three different and distinct subjects,” said a press release from the court, citing the fact that the proposal related to marijuana, medicinal cannabis and adult hemp.

“In its decision, the majority opinion stated that the regulations on recreational marijuana, hemp and medical marijuana each have different goals and purposes that are not interdependent or interrelated,” it said. “The authors’ failure to meet the single topic requirement in Article XXIII, § 1 of the South Dakota Constitution meant that voters were unable to vote on each single topic contained in Amendment A separately. “

In its opinion, the majority of the court said it had “long ago stressed the importance of the constitutional requirement to allow voters to vote separately on each and every issue included in a proposed amendment”.

“It is important that any statement about the purpose or purpose of Amendment A, apart from a review of the provisions in it and their interrelationship, runs the risk of defining the purpose or purpose on the basis of various policy objectives, those of the authors of. We are striving for this change, “it said. “There is also the risk of defining the object or purpose too narrowly or too broadly.”

The state constitution “is not violated simply because a proposed amendment contains several provisions,” the statement said. “Rather, there is a violation if the proposed change contains more than one topic with different goals or purposes that are not interdependent or interrelated.”

Proponents of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) vigorously opposed the court’s ruling.

“We believe this South Dakota Supreme Court ruling is extremely flawed,” said Matthew Schweich, SDBML’s campaign director. “The court rejected common sense and instead used far-fetched legal theory to overturn a law passed by over 225,000 South Dakota voters with no logical or conclusive support.”

“The ruling states that Amendment A covers three issues – recreational marijuana, medical marijuana and hemp legalization – and that the South Dakotans could not say what they were voting on when they voted for Amendment A,” he said. “It’s a legal route and one based on the disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.”

“The fact that it took the South Dakota Supreme Court nearly seven months to rule on an electoral process is extremely problematic. This unacceptable delay has undermined public confidence in the South Dakota elections, its system of government and its judiciary. The court owes the people of South Dakota an explanation. “

Now advocates will turn their attention to a two-pronged approach to getting legalization passed.

During the legislative period, a law on cannabis reform was officially recommended by a governing body for the upcoming session. SDBML will continue to collect signatures for a 2022 electoral initiative – although they hope to work with lawmakers to advance law reform ahead of next year’s elections.

A preliminary marijuana study committee recently formally recommended lawmakers to start legalization after a series of hearings. The recommendation was approved earlier this month by the Legislature’s Executive Committee, chaired pro tempore by the House Speaker and Senate President.

Senator Bryan Breitling (R) said lawmakers will come up with two draft bills to legalize adult marijuana and 23 proposals related to the state’s medical cannabis program during next year’s session. Voters also approved a separate statutory medical cannabis election last year, which has not been challenged in court and which went into effect in July.

“Change A does not affect that [Medical Cannabis] Program that is going according to plan and meets all legal deadlines approved by voters. “- @sddohkmr

Full press release: https://t.co/bxlb7IMDoV pic.twitter.com/cd6T4T5zWc

– Ministry of Health (@SDDOH) November 24, 2021

But the Supreme Court ruling on the adult use initiative is still a disappointment for proponents who planned to end their ongoing campaign in 2022 if Amendment A had been confirmed. While voters strongly endorsed the reform when they voted, it was later challenged in the Noem government-funded lawsuit.

Now the focus is on the legislature.

The current version of the bill passed by the committee and board would allow adults 21 and older to buy and own up to an ounce of cannabis. The state treasury would be responsible for regulating the market and issuing marijuana business licenses

Unlike the legalization initiatives approved by South Dakota voters last year, the bill would not provide adult consumers with an option to grow their own. Also, growing marijuana for commercial sale could only be grown indoors.

We respect the court’s decision that the referendum is against the state’s constitution. The state of South Dakota will continue to implement the medical cannabis program.

– Kristi Noem (@KristiNoem) November 24, 2021

Proponents say that given the ongoing uncertainties, it is important to continue their election initiative for next year.

In the event of a negative judgment by the court, SDBML initially put forward four proposed legalization initiatives, but ultimately decided to pursue only one.

The campaign explained why it believed the Supreme Court erred in its judgment on Wednesday:

1. As the dissent points out, there was no sign of voter confusion. It is unacceptable that the court should violate the voting process for lack of evidence.

2. It is clear that voters understood that Amendment A was not just a medical marijuana initiative, as only 54% of voters approved Amendment A, while 70% of voters approved measure 26 (a measure initiated only on medical marijuana concentrated) approved. If voters believed Amendment A was a pure medical marijuana initiative, there would not have been a 16-point gap in the election results.

3. Claiming that South Dakota voters believed Amendment A was merely an initiative to legalize hemp is contrary to logic and reality. Additionally, South Dakota had already legalized hemp when voters approved Amendment A.

4. Medical marijuana and hemp were mentioned in Amendment A in just three sentences. The rest of the initiative dealt with recreational marijuana. Additionally, it’s worth noting that recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp are all versions of the same plant: cannabis.

“We are as energetic as ever to continue our work,” said Schweich. “We’re not going to stop until cannabis is legalized in South Dakota.”

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Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

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