S.D. recreational-pot amendment challenged

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) – A new lawsuit claims Amendment A that changed the South Dakota Constitution to legalize and tax recreational marijuana should be declared invalid.

The challenge was filed Friday afternoon in Hughes County circuit court.

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

It also argues that the measure violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule that voters adopted in 2016.

The plaintiffs are Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller. The attorneys are Matthew McCaulley of Sioux Falls and Robert Morris of Belle Fourche.

Voters approved the recreational-marijuana measure 225,260 to 190,477 in the November 3 general election. It 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.

Says the suit, “While an amendment can be used to change existing articles of the Constitution, it cannot be used to adopt an entirely new article, effectuate broad changes to the Constitution, or make changes that address entirely new subjects not encompassed within pre-existing articles.”

Voters also approved legalizing medical marijuana in the November 3 election. The medical-marijuana change is a new state law, which the Legislature could amend or repeal altogether.

State Representative Fred Deutsch, a Florence Republican, tweeted, “South Dakota’s Constitutional Amendment A to legalize marijuna is being taken to court. The issue is: “Is Constitutional Amendment A constitutional?”, NOT that the voice of the people is meaningless!”

The leader of the effort to pass Amendment A was Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney from Sioux Falls who is a son of Democratic former U.S. Senator Tim Johnson.

Republican Governor Kristi Noem appeared in a TV ad opposing Amendment A. McCaulley’s firm has state government contracts with the Noem administration. Her chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, previously worked for McCaulley’s Redstone firm. McCaulley headed the transition team as Noem prepared to take office after the 2018 election.

The suit asks for a judge to declare the votes for Amendment A null and void and to declare Amendment A not-certified.

In a statement issued from the Pennington County sheriff’s office, Thom said, “The South Dakota Constitution is the foundation for our government and any attempt to modify it should not be taken lightly. I respect the voice of the voters in South Dakota, however In this case I believe the process was flawed and done improperly, due to no fault of the voters.”

“Our constitutional amendment procedure is very straightforward,” Colonel Miller said in the same statement. “In this case, the group bringing Amendment A unconstitutionally abused the initiative process. We’re confident that the courts will safeguard the South Dakota Constitution and the rule of law.”

The statement was issued by Helene Duhamel, a Republican state senator who was appointed by Noem in December 2010. Duhamel is a former Rapid City news broadcaster who works for Thom’s office outside of legislative session.

Summoned to defend the suit is state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. He is under investigation for driving the car that killed a Hyde County pedestrian along US 14. Circuit Judge Christina Klinger was assigned the Amendment A case. Governor Noem appointed Klinger as a judge.

The organization that Johnson heads issued this statement: “We are prepared to defend Amendment A against this lawsuit. Our opponents should accept defeat instead of trying to overturn the will of the people. Amendment A was carefully drafted, fully vetted, and approved by a strong majority of South Dakota voters this year.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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