Judge, overruling South Dakota voters on pot vote, strikes down Amendment A as too complex

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state constitutional amendment voters passed in November allowing marijuana and hemp in South Dakota must be thrown out because it addresses more than one subject, a state judge ruled Monday.

“Allocating revenue from an excise tax of marijuana sales, forbidding differing professions from disciplining their members, and including a provision compelling the legislature to pass hemp, which is different than marijuana, are not part of the ‘single scheme’ of legalizing marijuana,” Sixth Circuit Judge Christina Klinger wrote.

She added, “Despite the strong presumption of constitutionality and presumption in favor of validity and propriety Amendment A receives, the infringement of the single subject rule in Article XXIII, § 1 is so plain and palpable as to admit no reasonable doubt Amendment A is invalid.”

The case was brought by South Dakota Highway Patrol superintendent Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom at the direction of Governor Kristi Noem, who had campaigned against it.

The losing side looked to the next round. “We disagree with the ruling and we are preparing our appeal to the South Dakota Supreme Court,” said Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney for South Dakota who sponsored the amendment.

The governor appointed the judge in 2019. Voters approved Amendment A 225,260 to 190,477. The decision doesn’t affect passage of IM 26 legalizing medical marijuana in South Dakota that voters approved 291,754 to 125,488.

The state Office of Attorney General has defended the amendment’s legality. Tim Bormann, the attorney general’s chief of staff, said late Monday afternoon he wasn’t aware that a decision had been filed yet but as a general policy wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Bob Morris of Belle Fourche, who represented the sheriff, also said he doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The Pennington County Sheriff Office issued a statement for Thom and Miller however.

“The judge’s ruling today solidifies the protections that were sought in the previous passing of Amendment Z.” Thom said, referring to the 2018 constitutional amendment that created the single-subject requirement.

Said Miller, “I am pleased with the court’s decision today, though I realize that the Supreme Court will likely have the opportunity to address our constitutional concerns on their merits.”

Judge Klinger also agreed with Miller and Thom that Amendment A was a constitutional revision that “has far-reaching effects on the basic nature of South Dakota’s governmental system” and was required to be submitted to a constitutional convention.

“The failure to submit Amendment A through the proper constitutional process, voids the amendment and it has no effect,” the judge wrote.

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