South Dakota Supreme Court hears Amendment A arguments

Wednesday’s proceedings come just over two months after a circuit court judge struck down Amendment A, and about six months since the November election.
The South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments in the Amendment A case, which would legalize recreational marijuana in South Dakota if upheld.
Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 6:31 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The highest court in the state of South Dakota has heard arguments related to the legality of Amendment A. Now, South Dakotans will wait to hear a decision regarding the future of recreational marijuana in their state.

Attorneys for both sides argued before the South Dakota Supreme Court Wednesday for about an hour total.

Defense attorney Brendan Johnson opened up those arguments, drawing attention to the fact that Amendment A passed by a sizeable margin in the November election, 54%-46%.

“’Under God the People Rule,’ was a statement that was more than just words,” said Johnson. “(It) Reflected the founders beliefs, that the power of government stems from the power of the people. The people’s power doesn’t come from government, the governments power comes from the people.”

The plaintiffs, Pennington County Sherriff Kevin Thom and SD Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller, are backed by a Gov. Kristi Noem. Noem is a long-time opponent of marijuana legalization.

Attorney Lisa Prostrollo of Redstone Law argued that the lawsuit was not about cannabis, but the rule of law. She said the Amendment A violates the state’s single-subject rule, which requires ballot measures to be limited to a single subject.

“What is the single purpose of Amendment A?” Prostrollo said. “Is it legalization of recreational marijuana, medicinal marijuana, or hemp? Is it the funding of public schools, or revising the state’s tax scheme? Or perhaps, is it granting the Department of Revenue exclusive constitutional authority to something that is unprecedented in our state?”

Justice Janine Kern drew attention to the defense argument that Amendment A had 15 subjects and 55 sub-sections. Johnson argued just because an Amendment was long did not mean it was not single subject, and that all of Amendment A was directly relevant to recreational marijuana legalization.

The sides also sparred over the matter of when the lawsuit should have been brought, before or after the November election. The plaintiffs argued that they would not have had standing prior to the election.

“This court, from a policy standpoint if nothing else, needs to say and articulate,” Johnson said. “You cannot wait on the sidelines if you saw a violation (prior to the election), which apparently they (the plaintiffs) did. That is the time to bring that, not after over 400,000 people have voted.”

It is unclear when the justices will issue their decision. Should the court decide to overturn the sixth circuit court decision, recreational marijuana would be set to become legal July 1st. However, the state would also be scheduled to get until 2022 to set up the regulatory framework around recreational marijuana.

To see the full hearing, click here.

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