Pro-Cannabis Group in South Dakota Accuses Officials of Illegal Election Interference

Group says two mayors and a sheriff have unlawfully campaigned against legalization measures.
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The group behind a 2020 medical marijuana proposal in South Dakota is accusing several officials of engaging in illegal campaigning against pro-cannabis measures in the state.

New Approach South Dakota said on Tuesday that it has filed information requests in an effort to find out whether the officials violated the state’s election laws by voicing opposition to the pot-related proposals. 

“Your tax dollars should not be used to promote any politician’s personal political agenda,” the group said in a Facebook post. “The state, an agency of the state, and the governing body of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state may not expend or permit the expenditure of public funds for the purpose of influencing the nomination or election of any candidate, or for the petitioning of a ballot question on the ballot or the adoption or defeat of any ballot question. This section may not be construed to limit the freedom of speech of any officer or employee of the state or any political subdivision who is speaking in the officer’s or employee’s personal capacity. This section does not prohibit the state, its agencies, or the governing body of any political subdivision of the state from presenting factual information solely for the purpose of educating the voters on a ballot question.”

According to Dakota News Now, the group has sent “a number of information requests to government offices across the state, to officials they say may have broken state laws by speaking out against marijuana measures.” 

The officials in question include the leaders of South Dakota’s two largest cities, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, as well as the sheriff of the state’s largest county and others. 

As Dakota News Now explained, state law says that “any government official or employee of the state is permitted to speak their opinion of a candidate or ballot measure in their personal capacity,” and that the “same law states that no government agency or official can influence the election of any candidate or ballot measure in their official capacity.”

South Dakota voters approved a proposal to legalize medical cannabis treatment in 2020. That same year, a majority of voters in the state also passed Amendment A, which would have legalized recreational pot as well. 

But Amendment A was ultimately struck down by the state Supreme Court following a legal challenge led by the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem. 

Next week, voters there will decide on a new recreational marijuana proposal, Initiated Measure 27. 

Per Dakota News Now, New Approach South Dakota “alleges that TenHaken, Milstead, Allender and others may have broken these laws with their messaging about [the 2020 medical marijuana measure] and Amendment A in 2020, as well as about [Initiated Measure 27].” 

Among the potential infractions is a “press conference held a week ago in downtown Sioux Falls that featured TenHaken, Milstead and others, as well as a press conference the same day in Rapid City,” according to Dakota News Now.

“The decision to do this and call this out was not an easy one. We’re submitting public record requests for multiple political officials throughout the state. And the decision to do that was not easy. These are dealing with a very powerful political establishment in the state.” New Approach South Dakota deputy director Ned Horsted said, as quoted by the station. 

Polls have shown that Initiated Measure 27 is in serious danger of being rejected next week, although Noem has said that she will implement the law if it is approved by voters.

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