South Dakota Governor Supports Lawsuit to Block Marijuana Legalization

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem recently confirmed that she issued an executive order to file a lawsuit that seeks to overturn voter approval of legal recreational marijuana in November 2020. She’s the second Republican governor to make the attempt in recent years.

After voters approved legal adult-use marijuana in Maine in November 2016, then Gov. Paul LePage opposed the measure. However, he waited for nine months as lawmakers hammered out all the details on creating a legal marijuana sales system. Then, he vetoed it.

Noem’s approach is more straightforward, but the goal is the same: stopping implementation of what voters approved at the ballot box. She recently issued an executive order that stated that a lawsuit against the amendment, filed in November, was done so at her direction.

Like LePage, she is using technicalities to derail the legalization effort. She claims in the executive order that the ballot issue “was not proper and violated the procedures set forth in the South Dakota Constitution.”

Governor Claims Ballot Issue Should Have Been Constitutional Amendment

Now that the election is over and voters approved legalization, the lawsuit filed at Noem’s direction argues that the procedure to do it was wrong. Gov. Kristi Noem and the two men who filed the lawsuit – South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom – all opposed the measure during the runup to the vote.

About 54% of voters approved the measure, while 59% approved in Pennington County, home to Rapid City. The measure authorizes the state to set up a system allowing cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis. The law allows those 21 and older to possess and use cannabis.

The lawsuit claims the ballot measure violates the state’s “single issue” rule for ballot initiatives. That same argument kept a medical marijuana legalization off the ballot in Nebraska in 2020.

Marijuana Supporters Are Gearing Up To Fight the Lawsuit

Technically, the lawsuit is against the South Dakota secretary of state’s office, which oversees what issues make the ballot. That office is represented in the case by the state Attorney General’s office, which has been joined by attorneys from the organization South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.

They argue that Noem should have raised these objections before the election, as officials in Nebraska did. They also say that the amendment only covers one topic, the legalization of marijuana, according to the Rapid City Journal..

While the argument over technicalities will prove tedious, the result will be of major interest not just to South Dakotans but those who are closely watching how governments react to legalization efforts.

In Maine, LePage eventually left office and Maine officials were able to set up a legal system for adult-use marijuana sales – but it took four years to put in place, with sales not starting until the fall of 2020.

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