LRC director had warned that S.D. marijuana amendment didn’t belong in state constitution

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The then-director of the South Dakota Legislative Research Council had cautioned Brendan Johnson that the state constitution wasn’t the proper place for the lengthy changes in state marijuana laws that Amendment A sought.

The LRC is one of the state offices that reviews proposed ballot-measures before sponsors start gathering signatures. The secretary of state determines if a measure has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Secretary of State Steve Barnett said Amendment A did. No one challenged whether Amendment A had sufficient signatures.

In a letter dated May 30, 2019, LRC’s Jason Hancock suggested to Johnson the proposal for Amendment A should be re-written so that it would amend state laws rather than add to the state constitution.

“The Constitution prescribes and limits the powers to be exercised by that government and sets forth the rights of the governed. The Constitution is not a compilation of policy statutes and as such, should not be amended to incorporate what ought to be statutory material,” Hancock wrote.

The head of the South Dakota Highway Patrol and the Pennington County sheriff filed a lawsuit Friday asking a state circuit judge to declare Amendment A invalid. One of the amendment’s provisions directs the Legislature, for people age 21 and older, to repeal South Dakota’s law that says ingesting marijuana is a crime. Law enforcement has been fighting to keep ingestion as a crime.

They claim the amendment violates the constitution’s single-subject rule and the amendment actually was a constitutional revision that should have been presented at a constitutional convention and then gone to voters in a special election.

State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was summoned in the lawsuit to defend the amendment. State law requires the attorney general to review and issue a statement about proposed ballot measures. On Amendment A, Ravnsborg wrote a page-long statement that included this paragraph:

“Judicial clarification of the amendment may be necessary. The amendment legalizes some substances that are considered felony controlled substances under current State law. Marijuana remains illegal under Federal law.”

Voters approved Amendment A 225,260 to 190,477 in the November 3 statewide general election. Johnson, a Democratic former U.S. attorney from Sioux Falls and a son of former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, wanted the language added to the state constitution so that the Legislature couldn’t change it.,

Republican lawmakers went to court four years ago and then repealed IM 22 that sought various reforms in the political process. Some of those were later put into effect through separate laws that were passed.

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