South Dakota's political leaders are making serious headway in their attempts to defeat the cannabis reform bills enacted by voters last fall.
In last year's election, a majority of voters in the Mount Rushmore state chose to legalize both adult-use and medical cannabis. As recently as last week, the state legislature kicked off efforts to create the necessary regulations for these industries, but now those plans are all on hold. This week, a state court struck down the voter-approved adult-use law, and Governor Kristi Noem just announced that the medical marijuana program would be delayed by another year.
Last fall, voters legalized weed on two separate ballot initiatives – one of these created a new law legalizing the use of medical marijuana, and a second amended the state constitution to legalize cannabis sales and use for any adult. But as soon as voters said yes to these initiatives, Noem asked two state cops to file a legal challenge against the adult-use amendment, arguing that it violated the state's single-subject rule.
On Monday, Circuit Judge Christina Klinger struck down the adult-use amendment, ruling that it had “far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota's governmental system," according to the Associated Press. The judge, who was appointed by Noem in 2019, agreed that the ballot initiative violated the single-subject rule because it combined marijuana business licensing, taxation, and hemp licensing all within one constitutional amendment.
The advocates who campaigned to get these measures onto the ballot have already announced that they will appeal the ruling, but Noem is confident that the state's highest court will take her side in the issue. In a statement, the governor said that Klinger's ruling "protects and safeguards our constitution" and that she is “confident that [the] South Dakota Supreme Court, if asked to weigh in as well, will come to the same conclusion."
Even as she fought to overturn the adult-use law, Noem promised that the state would still move ahead with the medical marijuana program. But this week, the governor announced that she was working to delay the start date for this program for one entire year, to July 1st, 2022. The adult-use legalization amendment would have also prevented lawmakers from interfering with the medical marijuana law, but now that this amendment is off the table, politicians can now delay the medical pot program indefinitely.
This Wednesday, Noem announced that she hoped to delay the new program in order to give lawmakers time to sort out the necessary regulations. “We are working diligently to get [the medical marijuana program] implemented safely and correctly,” Noem said in a statement, AP reports. “The feasibility of getting this program up and running well will take additional time.”
Republican state lawmakers are working on a bill that will officially delay the rollout of the medical marijuana program. This bill would set up a 22-member commission that will work to draft a finalized set of regulations by next January. This delay was informed by discussions with a national cannabis consulting group, which advised that it normally takes a state 14 to 20 months to implement an effective medical pot program.
Melissa Mentele, an activist who led the medical cannabis campaign, told AP that the medical pot proposal is already “a complete policy” that takes into account best practices from other states, though. In her opinion, the program does not need additional revisions, and can be implemented without an additional year of deliberation. Mentele has called politicians' decision to delay the program “harmful to patients and disrespectful to the people of South Dakota,” and Democratic lawmakers agree.
“The fact that they are dragging their feet on it is really frustrating,” said House Democratic Leader Jamie Smith to the Associated Press.