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Crime & Courts

State Supreme Court strikes down recreational marijuana

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Proponents for legal recreational marijuana are currently working to put that single issue on the November 2022 ballot. The petition calls for a change to state law that allows the possession, use, or distribution of marijuana by anyone 21 years old or older. The statute would note that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Amendment A has been struck down by the South Dakota Supreme Court as illegal under the state constitution. That opinion came out Wednesday.

Amendment A changed the state constitution to legalize the cultivation and sale of recreational and medical marijuana and industrial hemp in the state of South Dakota.

In the November 2020 election, about 54 percent of voters approved the amendment.

In its opinion, the high court upheld a Sixth Circuit ruling that Amendment A embraced more than one subject, in violation of the single-subject requirement in the state constitution.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote in the opinion that voters were not given the choice to vote to legalize just one of the three types of cannabis.

For instance, a voter who supports medical marijuana for South Dakota patients also had to vote to legalize and decriminalize marijuana for all persons 21 years of age. And farmers who want constitutional protections for industrial hemp also had to approve legalization of medical and recreational marijuana.

Four of the five justices agreed that the single-subject rule invalidated Amendment A. Justice Scott Myren dissented.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Highway Patrol Colonel Rick Miller brought the lawsuit against the amendment.

Governor Kristi Noem backed the challenge.

Sheriff Thom says the ruling affirms he worked to uphold the will of state voters by defending the constitution.

“In 2018, through Amendment Z, South Dakota voters spoke very clearly that they wanted a single subject, per amendment. It was clearly understood what they were voting on. The circuit court and Supreme Court agreed with us that Amendment A violated that. It was confusing in how it was written and violated the single subject rule.”

Those who backed the amendment are pushing for a new ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana.

Matthew Schwiech is with the marijuana policy project, which is backing the petition drive.

He says a better outcome would be for the state legislature to pass a recreational cannabis law.

“They know that’s what the people of South Dakota want,” Schwiech says. “We shouldn’t have to go to the ballot again with an initiative. So, I’m very hopeful that the South Dakota legislature will do the right thing and pass another initiative. For the time being we’re not making any assumptions, so we’re going to continue that signature drive.”

The court’s opinion affects only the legalization of recreational marijuana.

In 2020 voters approved a separate initiated measure to legalize medical marijuana in state law, and that still stands. The state is currently setting parameters for that program. And the South Dakota legislature legalized cultivation and marketing of hemp in March 2020.

An interim legislative committee voted in favor of a recreational cannabis framework bill. It’s expected to get introduced during next year’s legislative session.