South Dakota judge rejects voter-approved amendment legalizing marijuana

National News

FILE – In this Aug. 15, 2019 file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Top prosecutors in the vast majority of Arizona counties are dropping all existing possession of marijuana cases even before a new voter-approved law eliminating criminal penalties for having small amounts of the drug takes effect when results of the Nov. 3, 2020 election are certified. An Associated Press survey of county attorneys received responses from 13 of 15 elected county attorneys, all of whom said they were either immediately dropping existing cases or in one case pausing prosecutions and planning to drop them when Proposition 207 goes into effect. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota judge on Monday struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana.

Circuit Judge Christina Klinger ruled the measure approved by voters in November violated the state’s requirement that constitutional amendments deal with just one subject.

Lawyers on both sides have said they expect the issue to be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court.

Two law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, sued to block legalization by challenging its constitutionality. Miller was effectively acting on behalf of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who had opposed the effort to legalize pot.

Lawyers for the law enforcement officers argued that the ballot initiative violated a rule that constitutional amendments must only address one subject. They also said that by giving the Department of Revenue the power to tax and regulate marijuana, it improperly elevated the department to a fourth branch of state government.

Lawyers defending legalization dismissed those arguments and said the lawsuit was an effort to overturn the results of a fair election. About 54 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana.

Possessing small amounts of marijuana would have become legal on July 1, but that will not happen unless a higher court overturns the ruling.

Marijuana has become broadly accepted around the United States, with a Gallup Poll in November showing 68% of Americans favored legalization. South Dakota was among four states that month to approve recreational marijuana, along with New Jersey, Arizona and Montana. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have done so.

Supporters have argued that legalization creates jobs and raises tax money for governments that badly need it. Opponents have argued that marijuana leads to use of harder drugs, and may also lead to more impaired driving and other crimes.

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