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SD Gov. Hopes to Block Voter-Approved Marijuana Law Change

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Last fall, South Dakota became the first state to endorse two marijuana ballot questions in the same election. One was for a medical cannabis program and the other was to legalize recreational use for those 21 and older. (Adobe Stock)
Last fall, South Dakota became the first state to endorse two marijuana ballot questions in the same election. One was for a medical cannabis program and the other was to legalize recreational use for those 21 and older. (Adobe Stock)
January 12, 2021

PIERRE, S.D. -- Gov. Kristi Noem is getting involved in a legal challenge to the marijuana-legalization ballot initiative approved by South Dakota voters in November. A civil-rights group says the move adds to frustration being felt by voters in the current political environment.

Last week, Noem issued an executive order, saying the state's Highway Patrol superintendent has the legal standing to move forward with a lawsuit against the amendment.

In November, 53% of South Dakota voters endorsed legalizing marijuana for those 21 and older. Libby Skarin, campaigns director at the ACLU of South Dakota, said to see these efforts after the vote has taken place is disheartening.

"It does seem like an attempt to either suppress the voices of voters or to tell voters that they don't know what's best, that the government knows what's best for them," Skarin said.

The suit was first filed shortly after the election. Those behind it say the ballot question went beyond the scope of amending the constitution because it's too broad. But supporters, with the backing of the state Attorney General, argue it was confined to a single subject.

Prior to the vote, Noem voiced strong opposition to legalizing marijuana, citing concern about the impact on kids and communities.

Skarin said she understands opponents wanting to question technicalities surrounding the process of voting on these changes. But this follows a similar response by state leaders when voters endorsed campaign finance changes in 2016.

She said the pattern almost defies state history, as South Dakota was the first state to adopt the ballot initiative process in 1898.

"And coming from a government that often references the notions of freedom and of voters knowing what's best, I think that we're seeing a mismatch between what government officials say and what government officials do," she said.

She said while the legal challenge is independent of efforts nationally to overturn election results, it echoes what's happening on a broader scale. She suggests for voters who feel politicians are cutting off democracy for the sake of personal gain, this might add to that perception.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD