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Things took a drastic turn in South Dakota when the Supreme Court upheld a ruling by a lower court nullifying a voter-passed constitution amendment that would have otherwise made recreational Marijuana legal in the state. South Dakota legalized medical marijuana through a ballot initiative on November 3, 2020. This took effect in July 2021.
The Republican Governor Kristi Noem has argued that legalizing Marijuana would introduce social ills to the conservative state. Her administration argued in court, citing that recreational use would technically violate the state constitution, which mandates that amendments to the constitution must only deal with one subject.
South Dakota Constitutional Amendment A
The South Dakota Constitutional Amendment A, also called the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, appeared on the ballot on November 3, 2021. A Yes vote supported full legalization of Marijuana in the state, while a No vote opposed legalizing Marijuana in the state for recreational use. It was successfully approved but later overturned through a circuit court ruling.
On February 8, 2021, it was ruled at the circuit court that this amendment was unconstitutional because it contravened the single-subject clause in the state’s constitution. This would imply a revision of the constitution to repeal the single clause; and not a mere amendment.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, who were the sponsors of the amendment, promised to move the matter to the Supreme Court as an appeal.
Supreme Court Upholds Ruling
On Wednesday, November 24, 2021, the Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s decision (4-1) not to legalize recreational Marijuana in South Dakota. On behalf of the majority, Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote, “It is clear that Amendment A contains provisions embracing at least three separate subjects, each with distinct objects or purposes.”
This includes medical Marijuana, recreational Marijuana, and hemp, which are separate issues.
If things had taken a different turn at the Supreme Court, South Dakota would have been the first state to legalize medical and recreational Marijuana in the same year. However, all is not lost. If the constitutional technicality can be sorted out, South Dakota will soon be joining 18 other green states.