South Dakota Gov. Noem Says She’ll Implement New Weed Law If Passed By Voters

Noem led a legal challenge to overturn a recreational pot amendment passed by voters in 2020.
Photo by Matt Gade

After leading a successful legal challenge against a voter-approved recreational pot amendment, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she won’t stand in the way the second time around. 

Voters in the state will decide next week on Initiated Measure 27, a proposal to legalize personal possession of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older. 

Noem, a Republican who is up for re-election this year, remains opposed to marijuana legalization. But at a campaign town hall in Rapid City on Thursday, the governor said she would uphold the will of voters if they pass Measure 27.

“If it passes, it’s going to be implemented. That’s just the facts,” Noem told voters, as quoted by the Rapid City Journal.

Fifty-four percent of South Dakota voters approved an amendment in 2020 that would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state. But Noem helped lead a legal challenge that ultimately led to the state Supreme Court striking down the amendment. 

At the campaign stop last week, Noem defended her actions, saying that the law would have run afoul of the state constitution. 

“I raised my right hand and said that I would uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. The basis of every decision comes from that,” Noem said, according to the Rapid City Journal.

Advocates were confident that Measure 27 could match the showing of the 2020 amendment, but polling has indicated that its passage is anything but a certainty.

In August, a Mason-Dixon poll found that 54% of South Dakota voters are against legalization, while 44% are in support.

A South Dakota State University poll released earlier this month found that 47% of voters in the state are opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana, while 45% support the idea and another eight percent are unsure. A poll from Emerson College released last week painted an even bleaker picture, showing 50% of voters intend to vote no Measure 27 compared with about 40% who intend to vote yes. 

Noem is facing a challenge from Democrat Jamie Smith, who has frequently criticized the governor for overturning the 2020 amendment. The poll from Emerson College showed Noem with a large lead over Smith heading into Election Day. 

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled last November that the 2020 proposal, Amendment A, violated the constitution’s single subject requirement. (The amendment sought to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, along with hemp.)

“This constitutional directive could not be expressed more clearly—each subject must be voted on separately—and simply severing certain provisions may or may not reflect the actual will of the voters,” said Chief Justice Steven Jensen in the majority opinion. “Therefore, we cannot accept Proponents’ suggestion that excising the medical marijuana and hemp provisions from Amendment A in favor of retaining the provisions regulating and legalizing recreational marijuana is an appropriate remedy. Amendment A is void in its entirety.”

Noem celebrated the ruling.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” she said at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.” 

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