State-Backed South Dakota Cops Blocking Voter-Backed Marijuana Legalisation in Court

A recent amendment in South Dakota permitting recreational and medicinal marijuana usage is being threatened by anti-cannabis officials, who are using state-funds to deny the will of the voters.

Anti-cannabis Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller are suing to prevent the passage of Amendment A, which would legalise recreational and medical marijuana in the state. Worse, they're doing it with governor Kristi Noem's backing. 

The supposed basis behind their challenge is that the amendment violates the 'one-subject rule' which according to Article XXIII, Section 1 says: "A proposed amendment may amend one or more articles and related subject matter in other articles as necessary to accomplish the objectives of the amendment; however, no proposed amendment may embrace more than one subject." 

Basically an amendment can only alter things relevant to its ultimate goal and nothing beyond that. So what's the issue? According to the lawsuit; Amendment A violates this rule by amending things beyond its stated goal of legalising cannabis. "How?" You may ask dear reader? Well according to Thom and Miller; the amendment goes beyond its goal of legalising cannabis by doing the following:

  • Legalisation of recreational marijuana
  • Regulation licensing and taxation for the commercial sale of recreational marijuana
  • Regulation of medicinal marijuana
  • Regulation of hemp

All that is true, Amendment A does cover those things. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs however; both hemp and marijuana are in fact sourced from the cannabis plant. Thus they're the only relevant factors to consider when pushing for legalisation. 

I've dedicated my life to defending and upholding the rule of law, the South Dakota Constitution is the foundation for our government and any attempt to modify it should not be taken lightly. I respect the voice of the voters in South Dakota, however In this case I believe the process was flawed and done improperly, due to no fault of the voters."Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom

No, it wasn't flawed. The voters decided that possessing marijuana wasn't worth jailing minorities over and the plaintiffs are now attempting to use legal jargon to prevent that decision from going forward.

It would be akin to claiming in custody proceedings pertaining to "the kids"; that mentioning the names of young Tim and baby Sue are irrelevant to the case. Like that hypothetical example; marijuana and hemp are literally the heart of the amendment.

Legalisation has been a long-time coming, as Amendment A was approved statewide by voters with a margin of 54% and even in Thom's own Pennington County it passed with 59%. Despite that; South Dakota taxpayers now find themselves funding both sides of this lawsuit. This is because Thom and Miller are suing both as private citizens and in their offical roles.

They have the backing of GOP governor Kristi Noem who has authorised state funds to cover their legal costs. Furthermore, as the burden for defending Amendment A ironically rests on the anti-cannabis Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg's shoulders, taxpayers will have to foot that bill too despite having made their stance on the issue clear.

Amendment A was in part pushed for by the group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and they recently released a statement responding to the plaintiff's arguments. They argue that anyone who reads Amendment A will see that the one-subject rule is followed because all proposals within are restricted to the forms in which cannabis is consumed by the public.

This manufactured distinction is unsupported in the law and is utterly insufficient as a basis for overturning a constitutional amendment approved by voters,"South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws

Given Ravnsborg's public stance against legalisation, SKBML is also mounting their own legal defence in case the Attorney General fails to defend the bill. Brendan Johnson, lead attorney defending Amendment A acting on behalf of SDBML said: "With all due respect to the Attorney General's Office, they're really not a factor in our legal strategy, whatever they say isn't going to effect our defense in the least."

Whatever the outcome of this case, South Dakota voters should be appalled that their decision is being undermined by two cops and a conservative governor. More-so that their tax dollars are being wasted entertaining this anti-democratic, anti-cannabis lawsuit. 

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Cameron Kinsella
Cameron Kinsella

Cameron is an Australian writer, film geek, and political science graduate from the University of Sydney who is passionate about the culture that has arisen surrounding cannabis. Cameron hopes to one day bring that culture to Australia through educating audiences