Circuit judge sets hearing in legal challenge to S.D. recreational-marijuana amendment result

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Court Gavel

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The legal fight over whether Constitutional Amendment A was valid legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana in South Dakota is quickly moving ahead.

Circuit Judge Christina Klinger set a December 23 deadline for pre-trial motions and supporting briefs in the two cases and January 8 for replies.

Her order said she will hold a hearing on the motions as soon after January 8 as the court schedule allows.

South Dakota voters approved the recreational-marijuana measure 225,260 to 190,477 in the November 3 general election.

The challenge to Amendment A was filed three weeks ago by private lawyers paid from state government funds by Governor Kristi Noem.

The 11-page complaint claims Amendment A was a constitutional revision that should have required a constitutional convention and a special election.

It also argues Amendment A violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule.

Voters also initiated a new state law legalizing medical marijuana 291,754 to 125,488, but the court cases don’t challenge that outcome.

The Republican governor didn’t mention the Amendment A lawsuit in her budget speech Tuesday to state legislators but she talked about the results of the two votes, calling them “disappointing.”

Noem told lawmakers the state Department of Health and the Department of Revenue would need more money to put the measures into effect.

Amendment A has 15 sections and 55 subsections. The lawsuit claims at least five separate subjects are addressed in it. Only a court can overrule a constitutional amendment.

Grant Flynn, a lawyer in the South Dakota Attorney General office, asked the judge to dismiss the case. He argued that the governor’s side failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted and said most of the allegations were “a legal argument which does not require a response.”

Flynn admitted Amendment A was a new article in the constitution but denied it included “a multitude of different subjects.”

He also denied the constitutional requirements regarding amendment vs. revision must be met because their language “is permissive, not obligatory” and denied that Amendment A was a “fundamental alteration” of South Dakota’s governmental structure.

Wrote Flynn, “An Election Contest is an improper remedy. The purpose of an Election Contest is to challenge the election process itself and to determine if irregularities in the process were so significant that they prevented a ‘free and fair expression of the will of the voters on the merits.’ Contestants have alleged no irregularities in the election process nor any conduct that suppressed the will of the voters.”

Named as targets of the complaint are state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett. The complaint was brought on behalf of Rick Miller, superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.

Judge Klinger has allowed four supporters of the marijuana ballot measures to intervene. They are Randy Seiler, William Stocker, Charles Parkinson and Melissa Mentele. Their attorney is Brendan Johnson, who circulated Amendment A for signatures to get on the November ballot. Seiler and Johnson are former U.S. attorneys for the district of South Dakota. Seiler is South Dakota Democratic Party chairman and Johnson is a son of former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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