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A worker looks through a bag of marijuana

A worker looks through a bag of marijuana that will be used to make marijuana infused chocolate edibles at Kiva Confections on January 16, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

South Dakota Supreme Court Kills Recreational Marijuana Law Approved by Voters

The ruling is a win for Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who directed the state to pay for the legal fight against the voter-backed amendment.

Andrea Germanos

The South Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court's ruling in striking down a voter-approved measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana.

"Legalization opponents... are now petitioning the courts to overturn the will of the people."

In a statement explaining its 4-1 ruling, the court argued that Constitutional Amendment A—which passed by an eight-point margin last year in a state-wide referendum vote last year—was invalid because it dealt with more than one subject and thus ran afoul of the state constitution.

In addition to addressing recreational pot, the measure also had provisions regarding hemp and medical marijuana.

"As a result of the constitutional violation, the court has declared the amendment invalid," the judges said.

Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which led the campaign in support of Amendment A, called the ruling "extremely flawed."

The ruling, according to Schweich, "states that Amendment A comprised three subjects—recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp legalization—and that South Dakotans could not tell what they were voting on when voting for Amendment A." But Schweich rejected that finding as "a legal stretch and one that relies on the disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative."

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem had backed the lawsuit against legalization and welcomed the supreme court's ruling.

The plaintiffs in the case are South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom. "Legal fees for Miller's role in challenging the amendment," the Sioux Falls Argus Leader previously reported, "are being paid for by the state of South Dakota at the order of Gov. Kristi Noem, who campaigned against the ballot measure leading up to the election."

“Legalization opponents cannot succeed in the court of public opinion or at the ballot box," Paul Armentano, deputy director of advocacy group NORML, said in a statement. "Thus, they are now petitioning the courts to overturn the will of the people. Whether or not one supports marijuana legalization, Americans should be deeply concerned by this trend and by the outcome of this case."

Fifty-four percent of South Dakota voters approved the amendment last November. Among other things, it would have allowed recreational use for those over 21, as well as the possession and distribution for up to an ounce of marijuana.

"We had full confidence that a majority of South Dakotans, if given the opportunity to vote on (marijuana), would realize the economic, health, and social justice benefits of marijuana reform. And they did," Drey Samuelson, political director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said at the time.

Legal challenges in the conservative state, however, quickly ensued.

Wednesday's decision upholds the February decision from Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger.


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