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South Dakota Governor Demands Cannabis Advocates Cover Legal Costs

Kristi Noem from South Dakota is not content with winning in court. 

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.

Amendment A would have legalized marijuana for adults 21-plus in South Dakota. 54 percent of South Dakota’s voters approved it in 2020. Things quickly got complicated. 

Noem was an outspoken opponent to the amendment all through the campaign. She continued to voice her disapproval even after the amendment passed. 

Two law enforcement officials brought a lawsuit on Noem’s behalf, challenging the constitutionality of Amendment A. The amendment was struck down by a South Dakota circuit judge who agreed with Noem’s request in February last year.

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 is widely believed to be a candidate for the 2022 Republican Presidential nomination. He celebrated this 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. The rule of law still applies to us. 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 also found her overall approval rating at 61 per cent.

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. In her drive to restrict South Dakotans’ freedom to use cannabis freely, Governor Noem made it a costly legal battle and spent taxpayer money. As a result of her actions, South Dakotans paid to have their own votes reversed.”

South Dakota voters approved an additional measure on the 2020 ballot that legalized medical marijuana. In November, qualified patients began to apply for cards.

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