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South Dakota Voters Disapprove of Governor’s Cannabis Approach

The majority of South Dakota’s voters support their governor. Large majorities approve of her overall job performance, as well as her handling of the state’s economy and approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But when it comes to Kristi Noem’s handling of cannabis legalization in the state, the Mount Rushmore State’s first-term governor and potential Republican presidential candidate gets a thumbs down.

A new poll out last week found that pot prohibition is just about the only bad grade on Noem’s report card. Of the 500 registered South Dakotan voters who participated in the poll, 61.2 percent shared they approved of Noem’s overall performance as governor.

About 65 percent also said that she approves of how she handled the pandemic. Seventy-two per cent said that they support her efforts to focus on South Dakota’s problems, and 61 percent supported her integrity.

But on her handling of cannabis legalization, which flamed out in the state’s court system after being approved by voters in last year’s election, only 39 percent said they approve of Noem, while 17.8 percent said they somewhat disapprove and 33.4 percent said they strongly disapprove. 

Mason Dixon conducted the poll and KELO reported on it between October 20-23 using telephone interviews with 500 South Dakota residents. The margin of error is 4.5 percent.

The findings from the survey would seem to confirm what the results of last year’s election showed: that South Dakotans are ready to legalize recreational pot use for adults. Amendment A would have allowed pot use for people 21 or older, and was supported by 54% of the voters of South Dakota’s deep red state. 

The poll also suggests that Noem’s unflinching opposition to legalization has been a rare political misstep for an otherwise popular governor widely believed to have White House aspirations. 

Noem successfully challenged Amendment A’s constitutionality, and a pair state law enforcement officers filed a lawsuit in her favor. A circuit court judge in South Dakota struck down the amendment in February, but in April, the state Supreme Court agreed to consider an appeal of the lower court’s decision.

After deliberating for seven months, the Supreme Court finally handed down its decision last month, ruling on the eve of Thanksgiving that Amendment A violated the “one subject” requirement in the state’s constitution. 

Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote in his majority opinion that the proposed amendment contained “provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes.”

“This constitutional directive could not be expressed more clearly—each subject must be voted on separately—and simply severing certain provisions may or may not reflect the actual will of the voters,” Jensen wrote. “Therefore, we cannot accept Proponents’ suggestion that excising the medical marijuana and hemp provisions from Amendment A in favor of retaining the provisions regulating and legalizing recreational marijuana is an appropriate remedy. Amendment A is void in its entirety.”

Noem celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision, while also affirming that the state’s rollout of a new medicinal cannabis program—which was also approved by South Dakota voters in last year’s election—remained a go. 

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,”she 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. Our lives are still guided by the 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.”