South Dakota cops want to overturn cannabis-legalization vote

In their complaint, the two law-enforcement officers claim the ballot question violated rules about amending the state Constitution

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Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and state Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller want a judge to declare all ballots cast for or against Amendment A null and void. This would invalidate the changes it makes to the state Constitution. Photo by jirkaejc/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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The November 3 federal election in the United States was an important event in the country’s inevitable (albeit slow and painful) march toward cannabis legalization. Some cops in South Dakota, however, are none too happy with that. Two cops, to be precise. And governor seems to be on their side.

A majority of voters in that state cast their ballots in favour of legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes. South Dakotans also voted to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Now, though, two law-enforcement officials in the state have a filed a court challenge against the legalization measure. That measure introduced an amendment—known as Amendment A—to the state Constitution. That amendment won just over 54 percent of the vote on Election Day.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and state Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller filed their suit on November 20. They want a judge to declare all ballots cast for or against Amendment A null and void. This would invalidate the changes it makes to the state Constitution.

Separate questions

In their complaint, Thom and Miller claim that the amendment in question contains at least five distinct subjects involving the legalization and regulation of cannabis products. This, they say, violates rules against amending more than one subject at once. The proponents of Amendment A, they argue, should have split the five subjects into separate questions on the ballot.

“Our constitutional amendment procedure is very straightforward,” Miller said in a press release. “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.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to defending and upholding the rule of law,” Thom stated. “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.”

Funded by state money

Miller and Thom have hired their own private lawyers. The Rapid City Journal reported on Friday, however, that South Dakota’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem, supports their efforts. State money, in fact, is funding an unspecified portion of the suit.

“In South Dakota we respect our Constitution,” Noem told the Journal. “I look forward to the court addressing the serious constitutional concerns laid out in this lawsuit.”

Meanwhile, the group behind the legalization measure said its legal team is reviewing the cops’ challenge. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is developing its own strategy in response.

“We are prepared to defend Amendment A against this lawsuit,” the group said in a statement released over the weekend. “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.”

Majority supports legalization

In voting to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota joined 11 other states and the District of Columbia. When South Dakota and Mississippi voted to legalize medical cannabis, they joined 33 states and D.C. in passing laws legalizing or decriminalizing medical use.

At the federal level, though, cannabis remains illegal. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, with “a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” However, a recent Gallup poll suggests that a majority of Americans would like this to change. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they believe the use of cannabis should be legal.

In April, YouGov found that the majority think legalization of recreational cannabis has been a success in states that allow it.

Fifty-five percent of the 27,328 U.S. adults surveyed said that it has been either fully successful or more of a success than a failure. Only 19 percent of respondents felt that the legalization of recreational cannabis use has been a failure, or more of a failure than a success. A further 26 percent said they didn’t know.

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