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Noem threatens to veto any legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana
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Noem threatens to veto any legislation that legalizes recreational marijuana

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Gov. Noem

Gov. Kristi Noem

PIERRE | Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday she would likely veto any bills that allow recreational marijuana use this year, despite some GOP lawmakers weighing whether to move forward with legalization.

A circuit court judge ruled Monday that a constitutional amendment passed by voters to legalize recreational marijuana would have violated the state’s constitution. But marijuana legalization has stayed on lawmakers’ agenda with pro-marijuana groups planning to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. Some have argued the Legislature should legalize it this year, regardless of the high court's ruling, because it would reflect the will of voters and allow them to craft the policy.

But Noem remains an ardent opponent of marijuana legalization, saying at a news conference she would “not be inclined” to sign a bill legalizing it for recreational use.

The governor has also slow-walked the implementation of a medical pot program, arguing it will take at least a year to get everything in order. She has pushed lawmakers to delay implementing a law passed by voters until July 1, 2022. It is supposed to go into effect this year on July 1.

However, some lawmakers see the battle to keep legal marijuana out of the state as a losing one. Marijuana has become broadly accepted around the United States, with a Gallup Poll in November showing 68% of Americans favored legalization.

“In my mind, it’s inevitable because we’ve already seen the support from the public,” said Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack.

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A group of lawmakers has started a “cannabis caucus,” which has held weekly meetings to discuss marijuana legalization. Several at the Wednesday meeting said they felt they should legalize it this year.

“I didn't vote for recreational marijuana, but my constituents did,” said Republican Greg Jamison. “Rarely do we get a chance to enact a law and not for sure know what our constituents think of that. Here we know.”

The constitutional amendment to legalize adult use of pot passed by 54%, while the initiative to legalize it for medical use cleared with 70% of the vote.

Jamison argued that the Legislature could craft a new law that didn't run afoul of the state constitution. It would also allow lawmakers to have their say on how the pot industry should look in the state.

Legislators are also weighing the possibility that the state Supreme Court could overturn the lower court's ruling, leaving them with little time to help set up licensing, banking and other regulations for pot.

Both the House and Senate would need a two-thirds majority to overrule a veto from the governor. But Republican Sen. Timothy Johns said lawmakers have a chance to “write a better law” than what was passed by voters, but still fulfill their wishes.

“Sometimes it’s just like bite the bullet, face reality and get it over with," he said.

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