South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has made no attempt to hide her opposition to the legalization of marijuana, even after the people of her state voted for it in November 2020. Nine months after the vote, residents there still cannot buy marijuana.
A resolution of the issue is expected when the state Supreme Court rules on a lawsuit filed that seeks to overturn the vote due to a technicality. As reported by National Public Radio, it’s a lawsuit Noem has backed. That puts her in the unusual position of opposing the will of voters.
Bill Stocker, a marijuana advocate, disabled veteran and former police officer, told NPR he supports legalization because cannabis works well to manage his pain and he doesn’t want to use opioids. He also said police should focus on other drugs.
“Fentanyl is the problem, not marijuana,” he said.
A Republican ‘Rising Star’
Unlike blue states such as California and Colorado, South Dakota is reliably in the red column in national elections. Noem herself is a “rising Republican star,” according to NPR. She’s made cannabis legalization a political issue.
She’s also said things that many cannabis users find insulting, such as, “I don’t think anybody got smarter smoking pot.” Associating cannabis with a low IQ is one of many marijuana myths. She even opposed legalizing industrialized hemp, something most other Republicans backed.
Although she campaigned against the voter referendum in 2020, Noem has since said that she supports certain people having access to medical marijuana. NPR noted that 55 percent of South Dakota voters favored legalizing recreational weed in 2020. In 2018, only 51% voted for Noem.
“I will not vote for her,” Stocker told NPR. “Matter of fact, if there is a good candidate running against her in ’22, I will not only support that candidate. I will actively campaign for that candidate.”
Noem is Not the First GOP Governor to Go This Route
To block legalization, two law enforcement officers filed a lawsuit in circuit court claiming the constitutional amendment violated state rules that require only a single subject on a ballot issue (they claim medical and recreational marijuana are separate issues). Noem backed the plaintiffs in the case, Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments on the case in June. It’s unclear when they will issue an opinion.
Meanwhile, the legal marijuana system remains on hold. If this seems familiar, it’s because the same thing happened a few years ago. After Maine voters approved legal recreational marijuana in 2016, then-Gov. Paul LePage opposed the measure and vetoed bills that would have set up the state-run system.
Eventually, the legislature overturned the veto. Sales began almost four years after the vote in October 2020. LePage, who left office in January 2019, is running again for governor in 2022.