Any Given Thursday: South Dakota Supreme Court’s Indecision on Adult-Use Cannabis

Matthew Schweich has started every Thursday morning for the past six months by logging onto the South Dakota Supreme Court’s opinion page and hitting the refresh button.

Twenty-seven straight weeks, the campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Laws (SDBML), a statewide ballot question committee based out of Sioux Falls, has been met by disappointment, as time and time again he finds that the five-justice court remains a no-decision on the constitutionality of Amendment A—the 2020 voter-approved adult-use cannabis ballot measure.

In addition to being the SDBML campaign director, Schweich also serves as the deputy director of reform organization Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

SDBML | southdakotamarijuana.orgMatthew Schweich, Campaign Director, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws.

“Eight o’clock sharp every Thursday morning,” Schweich said about when the South Dakota Supreme Court updates its issued opinions online each week. “I’d hate to count up all those Thursdays that there’s been no ruling on the Amendment A case.”

Last November, 54.2% of South Dakota voters cast ballots in favor of Amendment A, to legalize adult-use cannabis, but Republican Gov. Kristi Noem launched a taxpayer-funded lawsuit challenging the ballot measure, claiming it violated the state’s one-subject rule.

Without the Supreme Court’s decision, Amendment A currently sits unconstitutional, which Circuit Judge Christina Klinger ruled in February. Noem, who opposed legalization leading up to the 2020 election, nominated Klinger to the state’s Sixth Circuit Court in early 2019.

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Amendment A in late April, but the judicial body has remained silent since, putting SDBML in a tight position—a Nov. 8, 2021, deadline looms to gather roughly 17,000 valid signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot, in case the Supreme Court upholds Klinger’s ruling that Amendment A is unconstitutional.

RELATED: Arguments on Amendment A Unfold in Front of South Dakota Supreme Court

“Overall, we’ve got hundreds of volunteers all over the state, and we’ve got 40 signing locations all over South Dakota,” Schweich said. “And we’re just going to have to rely on our volunteers to come up big for us. Based on the level of frustration, and therefore motivation, I think there’s a very good chance we’ll get what we need and be able to submit [on Nov. 8].”

Schweich said he hopes SDBML will collect 22,000 to 23,000 signatures—to provide a 5,000 to 6,000 buffer—in case some of the signatures are not validated (i.e., signees who do not write their information legibly or who think they’re registered to vote when in fact they are not).

SDBML | southdakotamarijuana.orgGoing through the same process two years ago, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws staff and volunteers submit petitions for Amendment A and medical cannabis legalization Measure 26 to Secretary of State Steve Barnett on Nov. 4, 2019, in Pierre.

If the signature gathering campaign comes up short for the Nov. 8 deadline, then SDBML will extend its efforts for the statutory and try to submit by May 2022 instead, but there’s a slight risk in doing so, Schweich said. Initiative organizers plan

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