South Dakota Cops Are Trying to Overturn Voters' Decision to Legalize Weed
South Dakota residents voted to legalize adult-use and medical marijuana, but local cops think their opinion about weed is more important than the will of the taxpayers.
Published on November 23, 2020

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South Dakota made history this month as the first US state to legalize both medical and adult-use cannabis in the same stroke. But, local politicians and cops are working hard to override the will of state taxpayers and reverse this historic decision.

On Election Day, just over 54 percent of South Dakota voters said yes to Amendment A, a measure that amends the state's constitution to legalize the sale and use of cannabis for adults. Last week, state Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom filed a lawsuit demanding that the state invalidate all ballots cast for Amendment A. 

The lawsuit alleges that the legalization measure violates the state's single-subject law. In 2018, the state imposed a requirement that proposed ballot amendments could only address one subject. According to the cops, the amendment covers five separate subjects, including adult-use legalization, regulation of pot sales, medical cannabis regulation, and hemp legalization.

Prohibitionists in Nebraska used a similar tactic to kill a medical marijuana legalization measure that had been added to that state's ballot this year. Activists managed to brave the pandemic and collect enough signatures to place a medical cannabis initiative on the 2020 ballot, but local cops sued to block the measure. Again, the cops argued that the measure violated the state's single-subject rule, and in September, the state Supreme Court agreed and stripped the measure off the ballot.

The South Dakota lawsuit is even more of an affront, considering that it was filed after voters already decided to pass the measure. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the advocacy group that successfully placed this measure on the ballot, is now gearing up for a legal battle to protect voters' rights. In a recent statement, the group said they were reviewing their options and preparing a strategy to fight this legal challenge.

“We are prepared to defend Amendment A against this lawsuit,” the group said in a statement. “Our opponents should accept defeat instead of trying to overturn the will of the people. Amendment A was carefully drafted, fully vetted, and approved by a strong majority of South Dakota voters this year.”

The lawsuit has been partially funded by the state of South Dakota itself, with support from anti-pot Governor Kristi Noem (R). "The governor approved this because she took an oath to support and defend the constitution. This is part of her duty as governor,” said Noem's spokesperson Ian Fury, according to the Rapid City Journal. It is unclear whether the governor specifically asked Miller and Thom to file the lawsuit, however.

Diehard prohibitionists are also working to overturn cannabis legalization wins in other states. In Montana, anti-pot groups are suing to overturn that state's new adult-use law, arguing that it unconstitutionally appropriates state funding. And in Mississippi, politicians have asked state courts to invalidate the state's new voter-approved medical marijuana law. Fortunately, in this case, the courts are likely to reject this challenge as it was filed after the ballot measure was already approved.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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