South Dakota Governor Demands Cannabis Advocates Cover Legal Costs


Not content with triumphing in court, conservative South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem wants cannabis advocates to pick up the tab, too. 

A spokesperson for Noem said last week that organizers behind the nullified amendment to legalize cannabis in the Mount Rushmore State should have to cover the expenses stemming from the governor’s own legal challenge against the law.

In 2020, 54 percent of voters in South Dakota approved Amendment A, which would have legalized cannabis for adults ages 21 and older. However, things got very complicated very quickly. 

Noem was a vocal opponent of the amendment throughout the campaign and maintained her objections even after its passage. 

Two law enforcement officials brought a lawsuit on Noem’s behalf, challenging the constitutionality of Amendment A. In February of last year, a circuit court judge in South Dakota agreed, striking down the amendment.

The state Supreme Court took up the case in April and, in late November, upheld the lower court’s ruling, saying that Amendment A, which dealt with both medicinal and recreational pot, violated South Dakota’s “one subject” requirement for constitutional amendments.

Noem, widely seen as a potential 2022 Republican presidential contender, celebrated the ruling.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” the governor said in a statement at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.” 

A poll last month found that more than 50 percent of South Dakotans disapprove of Noem’s handling, the only policy area in which she received low marks. (The same poll found that her overall approval rating stands at 61 percent.)

An attorneys group in Sioux Falls, South Dakota “received $142,000 in December for successfully arguing that Amendment A violated the state Constitution,” according to the Argus Leader newspaper.

Ian Fury, a spokesman for Noem’s office, said that expense should be paid by the individuals who brought Amendment A to the ballot.

“The proponents of Amendment A submitted an unconstitutional amendment and should reimburse South Dakota taxpayers for the costs associated with their drafting errors,” Fury told the Argus Leader.

The group behind the amendment, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, said simply, “That will not happen.”

“South Dakota cannabis reform advocates have no obligation to pay for Governor Noem’s political crusade to overturn the will of the people. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous,” said Matthew Schweich, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. 

“Amendment A was a sensible and well-drafted initiative approved by a majority of South Dakota voters at the ballot box, and it was only repealed due to a deeply flawed court ruling that relied on a far-fetched legal theory lacking evidentiary support. Driven by her desire to deprive South Dakotans of personal freedom on cannabis, Governor Noem went out of her way to create an unnecessary legal battle over Amendment A and used taxpayer money to do it. As a result of her actions, South Dakotans paid to have their own votes reversed.”

South Dakota voters approved a separate measure at the ballot in 2020 that specifically legalized medical cannabis and, in November, qualifying patients there began applying for cards.

Meanwhile, lawmakers there have prepared dozens of bills aimed at reforming the state’s marijuana laws during this year’s legislative session.



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