Medical cannabis state, legalization status in limbo, awaiting court decision
Advocates successfully defend medical cannabis law during a contentious legislative session; the state’s Supreme Court will soon decide the fate of voter-approved adult-use legalization law
Last update: May 3, 2021
During the 2021 South Dakota legislative session, Gov. Kristi Noem, House Speaker Spencer Gosch, and their legislative allies attempted to severely delay the implementation of the medical marijuana law established by Measure 26 — the ballot initiative approved by 70% of South Dakota voters on Election Day 2020.
House Bill 1100, originally introduced by Speaker Gosch, was the vehicle for enacting these delays. In the end, the South Dakota Legislature did not pass any version of HB 1100. As a result, the medical marijuana law approved by voters was not changed at all. You can read the law here: SDCL 34-20G.
This major victory for South Dakota medical marijuana patients and advocates was the result of three months of hard work. Thousands of South Dakota voters contacted their legislators by email and phone demanding that the will of the people be respected. And, in the end, a large number of South Dakota legislators rejected the delays proposed by Gov. Noem and Speaker Gosch.
Alongside Measure 26, South Dakotans also approved Amendment A, a measure that legalizes cannabis for adults 21 and older, in the November 2020 election. Soon after the ballots were counted, Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol Colonel Rick Miller filed two complaints in South Dakota Circuit Court seeking to repeal the marijuana legalization initiative approved by 54% of South Dakota voters. Thom and Miller argue that Amendment A is void because it does not adhere to the South Dakota Constitution.
On February 8, 2021, Amendment A lost in Circuit Court. However, the ruling was appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court, which will make the final decision. The first oral arguments took place on April 28.
Gov. Kristi Noem is using taxpayer money to fund a significant portion of the lawsuit. Her office has not disclosed the amount spent thus far. The South Dakota Attorney General’s office defended Amendment A in Circuit Court but declined to continue its defense in the South Dakota Supreme Court.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), the South Dakota statewide ballot question committee that passed Amendment A and Measure 26, is leading the legal defense of Amendment A. SDBML is relying on donations from supporters to pay its considerable legal bills — supporters of legalization are encouraged to support advocates in the legal battle by making a contribution here.
South Dakota makes history with voter approval of Amendment A and Measure 26
On Election Day, South Dakota became the first state to adopt medical marijuana and legalize marijuana for adults in the same election. With 54% of voters approving and 46% opposed, Constitutional Amendment A came out ahead by 35,000 votes and put the state on a path to regulating and taxing marijuana for people 21 and older. Measure 26, which will establish a medical marijuana program in the state, won with a 70% to 30% margin. Both measures will become effective on July 1, 2021.
The Marijuana Policy Project played a key role in leading the successful effort, which was spearheaded by two campaign committees, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and New Approach South Dakota. This victory — along with other marijuana policy reform wins around the country this year — could have implications for reform at the federal level.
“A few years ago, nobody would have predicted that South Dakota would legalize marijuana before New York,” MPP deputy director Matthew Schweich said. “But that’s the power of the ballot initiative process.”
South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett (white shirt), MPP Deputy Director Matthew Schweich (blue blazer), and South Dakota campaign staff and volunteers stand alongside over 53,000 signatures being submitted to qualify the constitutional adult-use marijuana legalization ballot initiative.