On Wednesday, November 24, the South Dakota Supreme Court overturned the will of the voters by nullifying a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational cannabis use in the state. 

The state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that found the voter-passed amendment to the state constitution too broad in the way it covered recreational marijuana, hemp and medical marijuana. South Dakota voters decided in 2018 that ballot initiatives would be limited to one subject. So the case hinged on whether a few general references to hemp and medical cannabis for the sake of clarification between the three in fact made the ballot initiative too broad for state law. 

Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), called the ruling extremely flawed. 

The court has rejected common sense and instead used a far-fetched legal theory to overturn a law passed by over 225,000 South Dakota voters based on no logical or evidentiary support,” said Schweich. “The ruling states that Amendment A comprised three subjects – recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and hemp legalization – and that South Dakotans could not tell what they were voting on when voting for Amendment A.”

Schweich called the whole thing a legal stretch that relies on the disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative.

SDBML has a whole lineup of issues with the ruling, but first, they were quick to agree with the dissent on South Dakota’s five-member supreme court that found there was no evidence of voter confusion. 

“It’s unacceptable that the court would violate the ballot initiative process based on no actual evidence,” Schweich said. 

The next thing SDBML focused on was the idea voters didn’t understand what they were voting on. They argue it is clear voters understood that Amendment A was not solely a medical marijuana initiative given that only 54% of voters approved Amendment A while 70% of voters approved the medical marijuana-focused Measure 26. SDBML argues if voters believed Amendment A was a medical marijuana-only initiative, there would not have been a 16-point gap in the election results.

Part of the legal argument against the ballot initiative that was started by law enforcement, before the governor took over, claimed some people thought they were voting solely for hemp.

“The assertion that South Dakota voters believed Amendment A was solely a hemp legalization initiative defies logic and reality,” Schweich said. “Furthermore, South Dakota had already enacted hemp legalization by the time voters approved Amendment A.”

SDBML’s final argument is medical marijuana and hemp were mentioned in just three sentences in Amendment A. The rest of the initiative addressed recreational marijuana. 

SDBML also believes the South Dakota Supreme Court taking nearly seven months to issue a ruling on an election-related lawsuit is extremely problematic. 

“This indefensible delay undermined the public’s faith in South Dakota’s elections, its system of government, and its judiciary,” Schweich said. “The court owes the people of South Dakota an explanation.”

SDBML also argues there are a lot more questions about the governor’s office and a specific executive order leading up to the litigation. Regardless, they are as energized as ever to continue our work. 

“We will not stop until cannabis is legalized in South Dakota,” Schweich closed. 


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