The governor of South Dakota vetoed legislation that would have allowed for automatic expungement of low-level cannabis-related offenses.
The measure – Senate Bill 151 – had been approved by both legislative chambers but senators ultimately decided to sustain the governor’s veto.
Gov. Kristi Noem described the bill as a “bad precedent for criminal justice” in an official statement explaining her veto.
“This bill provides for automatic removal from a public background check for Class 1 misdemeanors related to the use or possession of marijuana or any of its derivatives,” Noem said. “It also essentially codifies a convicted person’s ability to be dishonest about their previous arrest and conviction by not requiring disclosure of the prior drug conviction.
“This bill is also retroactive, which is bad precedent for criminal justice issues where fairness is paramount,” Noem added. “Further, even with the legalization of medical cannabis, there must remain consequences for using illegal drugs at a time when the use and possession of marijuana, even for alleged medical purposes, was illegal.”
Noem’s decision to veto automatic expungements of cannabis offenses closely follows her signing into law two other pieces of marijuana-related legislation. The first protects the rights of qualifying medical cannabis patients to grow their own marijuana plants. The other ensures that certain professions are not subject to employer sanctions on the basis of legal medical marijuana use.
Jax James, NORML’s state policy manager, characterized Noem’s veto as yet another example of her attempting to undermine the “obvious will of the voters.”
On Election Day 2020, a comfortable majority of voters approved a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in South Dakota. The vote, however, was subject to a legal challenge that was funded by Gov. Noem’s administration on the basis that the ballot proposal broke the state’s one-subject rule for constitutional amendments. A circuit court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and this decision was upheld by the state Supreme Court following an appeal by the sponsors of the marijuana legalization ballot measure.
“The voters of South Dakota have shown their support for comprehensive marijuana reform by voting to create regulated medical and adult-use markets,” James said. “Yet, despite the obvious will of the voters, Gov. Noem is intent on perpetuating the failed policies of the past. People with otherwise clean records do not deserve to have the rest of their lives derailed because of a marijuana possession conviction.”
South Dakota’s Senate recently approved a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, but a House committee then struck down the proposal.
Meanwhile, the marijuana reform activists behind the successful vote in 2020 are preparing for another run at the state’s ballot come the midterm elections this year.