The governor of South Dakota said she would respect the will of voters should they choose to legalize recreational cannabis at the November ballot.

Gov. Kristi Noem’s assurances come two years after her administration supported a lawsuit to invalidate an adult-use legalization proposal that was approved by voters. This time round, Noem claims the 2022 initiative “is written more appropriately towards the Constitution.”

The lawsuit against the successful 2020 legalization measure contended it violated the state’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments, and the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.

Noem is up for reelection this time round, leading many critics to argue her apparent change of position is to boost her chances of winning and deflect from her role in overturning the result of the last ballot. The fact that Noem actively campaigned against marijuana legalization and has previously vetoed a 2019 hemp legalization bill doesn’t help her case.

The group behind the 2020 legalization initiative – South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) – have seemingly learned the lessons from this experience, and have now put forward a narrower proposal that doesn’t include provisions concerning taxation and regulations. Those decisions will be left up to the legislature.

South Dakota voters also approved a medical marijuana legalization proposal at the 2020 ballot, and while Noem was opposed to the measure and tried to delay its implementation she has taken credit for the program’s success in taxpayer-funded ads for her reelection campaign.

“This is phase two of Gov. Noem’s PR rebranding on cannabis,” said Matthew Schweich, SDBML’s campaign director. “Last year she spent a significant amount of taxpayer money running ads to present herself as the responsible steward of medical cannabis even though, just months before, she advocated for legislation to severely delay implementation of the medical law.”

Noem’s latest remarks came at a campaign event in Aberdeen where she was also asked what would happen to those with cannabis convictions in the event that voters are in favor of legal adult-use marijuana. According to Argus, she responded that it’s “hard to have that discussion when you don’t know necessarily if it’ll pass or not.”

Earlier this year, Noem vetoed legislation that would have facilitated expungements of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses.

The Democratic nominee for the governorship in South Dakota, House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, has been quick to point out Noem’s obstruction of attempts to reform South Dakota’s marijuana laws in his own ads and described her “sudden change of heart” as “suspicious.”

A December 2021 poll reported that a majority of South Dakotans approve of Noem’s performance so far, but this drops to just 39 percent when it comes to how she has managed marijuana legalization.

Following the disappointment of the 2020 vote, SDBML also pursued legislative cannabis reform in talks with supportive lawmakers but the final bill that materialized failed to clear a House committee after advancing through the Senate.

Here are the key provisions that South Dakota voters will decide on with regards to marijuana legalization this November:

  • Adults 21 and older would be allowed to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow three plants at home for personal use.
  • Employers would be able to enforce workplace policies prohibiting cannabis use among staff.
  • State and local government would be able to continue prohibiting cannabis activities in premises “owned, leased, or occupied” by a government entity.
state marijuana laws