The South Dakota supreme court has upheld a lower court ruling nullifying a voter-passed amendment to the constitution that would have seen recreational cannabis legalised in the state. 

Republican Governor Kristi Noem instigated the legal challenge to the amendment, passed by voters in November, opposing cannabis legalisation as a “social ill”. However, the arguments put forward by her administration were around technical violations to the state’s constitution. 

Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem

In a 4-1 decision, the high court ruled that the measure (Amendment A) would violate the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject.

Chief Justice Steven Jensen wrote:”It is clear that Amendment A contains provisions embracing at least three separate subjects [recreational cannabis, medicinal cannabis and hemp], each with distinct objects or purposes.”

Praising the decision, Noem said: “South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about. We do things right, and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing.”

The decision by the supreme court upheld a circuit judge’s ruling in February against which advocates for cannabis legalisation appealed, arguing the legal challenge overturned the will of voters. Around 54% of voters approved the constitutional amendment last year.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws Matthew Scheich called the ruling “extremely flawed and reliant on a disrespectful assumption that South Dakota voters were intellectually incapable of understanding the initiative”.

The one dissenting judge, Justice Scott Myren, said the ballot measure proposed a comprehensive plan for cannabis legislation and that there was no evidence voters were confused about what they were supporting. 

Hannah Adler

Hannah is a communications professional and early-career researcher in the disciplines of health communication and health sociology. She is a PhD student at Griffith University currently writing a...