Lawsuit filed challenging South Dakota’s voter-approved recreational marijuana amendment

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 4:51 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A legal challenge has been filed against a constitutional amendment recently passed by South Dakota voters that legalizes the use of recreational marijuana in the state.

A lawsuit challenging Amendment A was filed Friday in Hughes County.

The plaintiffs are Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Col. Rick Miller.

According to a press release issued by Thom, the lawsuit covers two issues. The first is the state’s one-subject rule, which South Dakota voters approved two years ago. It says voters can only amend one subject at a time. The plaintiffs argue Amendment A has five subjects: legalizing marijuana, regulating recreational marijuana, taxing marijuana, requiring the legislature to pass laws on hemp, and ensuring access to medical marijuana.

The second issue focuses on the amendments and revisions article of the South Dakota Constitution. The plaintiffs argue the amendment itself does not amend the South Dakota constitution, but rather, revises it. A revision is a fundamental change to the constitution, while an amendment is a change to a specific part or subject. In South Dakota, any revision to the constitution requires a three-fourths vote from both chambers of the state legislature.

“Our constitutional amendment procedure is very straightforward,” Miller said, via a statement. “In this case, the group bringing Amendment A unconstitutionally abused the initiative process. We’re confident that the courts will safeguard the South Dakota Constitution and the rule of law.”

The amendment passed in the Nov. 3 election with 54% of South Dakotans voting in favor. Another ballot question legalizing medical marijuana passed by an even larger margin - with just under 70% of voter approval.

While voters approved the measure, some in the state have spoken out against it - most notably Gov. Kristi Noem. She issued a statement calling both marijuana-related measures on the ballot “the wrong choice” for South Dakota.

On Friday, Noem released a statement on the filing. “In South Dakota, we respect our Constitution. I look forward to the court addressing the serious constitutional concerns laid out in this lawsuit.”

Judge Christina Klinger signed the initial commencement action.  Judge Klinger was appointed to the bench by Governor Kristi Noem in February 2019. Filed by Attorney Robert Morris of Belle Fourche and Attorney Matt McCaulley of Sioux Falls. McCaulley led the Noem transition team in 2018 and is often reported as one of Governor Noem most trusted advisory.

The political organization behind Amendment A and Measure 26, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, released the following statement.

“We are prepared to defend Amendment A against this lawsuit. 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.”

You can read the full filing here.

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