South Dakota Police File Lawsuit to Block Measure Legalizing Marijuana Approved by Voters

South Dakota police have filed suit to overturn a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that legalized marijuana earlier this month.

Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Highway Patrol Superintendent Rick Miller filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the amendment last week despite South Dakota voters signaling their clear approval of marijuana legalization during the election.

"I've dedicated my life to defending and upholding the rule of law," Thom said in a statement. "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."

Around 70 percent voted in favor of a separate initiative allowing medical use, while the amendment permitting recreational use was approved by about 54 percent of voters. South Dakota was one of four states that voted to legalize recreational marijuana use this year, as well as the first state ever to approve both medical and recreational use at the same time.

The lawsuit seeking to invalidate the amendment, known as Amendment A, claims that the measure actually called for a constitutional revision rather than an amendment, which would require additional approval, and that its appearance on the ballot technically violated a provision against addressing more than one subject.

marijuana legalization
A growing number of U.S. states have been legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use despite opposition from law enforcement groups and others. iStock/Getty

Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem told the Argus Leader that voters had made the "wrong decision" in voting to legalize the drug shortly after the measure passed. Noem is backing the lawsuit to reverse the decision of the voters and approved the use of taxpayer funds by covering Miller's legal fees.

Many were outraged by both the lawsuit and the use of taxpayer money to support it. Facebook temporarily disabled comments to the Pennington County Sheriff's Office in response to a torrent of angry responses, according to KOTA-TV, while marijuana advocates vowed to vigorously defend the amendment in court.

"We are prepared to defend Amendment A against the lawsuit filed by Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol Colonel Rick Miller," advocacy group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws said in a statement on Monday. "Amendment A was carefully drafted, fully vetted, and approved by a strong majority of South Dakota voters this year."

"[Thom and Miller] are trying to invalidate Amendment A and overturn the will of the voters on the basis of two incorrect legal theories," the group added.

If the legal challenge fails, the amendment will allow adults 21 and over to possess and distribute up to one ounce of the plant after going into effect on July 1, 2021. The medical marijuana initiative, applying to those determined to have a "debilitating medical condition," will permit patients to possess three ounces and goes into effect on the same day.

The extent to which South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will be involved in the effort to block the amendment is unclear. Ravnsborg is currently under investigation for allegedly striking and killing a pedestrian while driving home from a Republican fundraiser in September, before calling 911 and saying he had "no idea" what he hit but that he thought it might have been a deer.