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South Dakota judge strikes down voter-approved marijuana legalization amendment

Voters approved the constitutional amendment in November, with recreational marijuana set to become legal in July. Legalization advocates plan to appeal.

A judge in South Dakota struck down a voter-approved Constitutional amendment that would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state. 

Hughes County Circuit Court Judge Christina Klinger ruled Monday that Constitutional Amendment A violates the state's single-subject requirement and said it would have "far-reaching effects on the basic nature" of the state's governmental system, according to the ruling posted online by the Argus Leader.

“The failure to submit Amendment A through the proper constitutional process, voids the amendment and it has no effect,” the judge wrote, arguing the amendment doesn't modify the constitution it adds a new section to it, so it needed to be submitted to voters via the constitutional convention process, which it wasn't. 

Amendment A, which legalizes all forms of marijuana and allows for the licensing, sale and cultivation of cannabis, was set to go into effect July 1. Voters approved it by 54% in November 2020.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, a group that pushed for the legalization of marijuana, wrote in a Facebook post, "We disagree with the ruling and we are preparing our appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court."

Meanwhile, the South Dakota Attorney General's Office, which is tasked with defending voter-approved ballot measures, told KELO it wouldn't be commenting because its general policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

The legal challenge to Amendment A came from South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, who filed a lawsuit against it, The Associated Press reports

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who appointed Judge Klinger in 2019, campaigned against Amendment A and spoke out against it even after voters approved it. She also ordered the state to pay for Miller's legal fees in his fight against Amendment A. 

She applauded the court's decision on Monday. 

"Today's decision protects and safeguards our constitution," she said in a statement sent to the Argus Leader. "I'm confident the South Dakota Supreme Court, if asked to weigh in as well, will come to the same conclusion."

Thom and Miller also cheered the judge's decision, with Thom saying it "solidifies the protections" outlined in a 2018 constitutional amendment that requires further amendments to stick to a single subject. 

South Dakota voters in November also approved Initiated Measure 26, which legalizes medical marijuana in the state come July 1. Monday's court ruling isn't expected to impact that. 

Fifteen states, including South Dakota, have legalized recreational marijuana, with other Midwestern states including Minnesota and Wisconsin considering it. 

Democrats in Minnesota have again proposed a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, but some Republicans are against it so it's unclear if it will get done this year as the GOP controls the Senate. 

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers proposed legalizing recreational weed and medical cannabis in his budget proposal, with medical marijuana more likely to get approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

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