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Legal team for marijuana amendment makes first arguments to Supreme Court

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Brendan Johnson

PIERRE | Advocates for recreational marijuana in South Dakota argued the future of the ballot initiative process is at stake as the state Supreme Court weighs a voter-passed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, according to documents filed Wednesday.

South Dakota voters in November passed a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana, but a state circuit judge in January struck that down as unconstitutional. Marijuana advocates have appealed to the Supreme Court in a case that will determine whether recreational pot becomes legal in the state.

“This case is not just about marijuana. It is also about the future of the initiative process in South Dakota," attorneys Timothy Billion and Brendan Johnson wrote to open their arguments filed to the Supreme Court.

The attorneys, representing South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and several other marijuana advocates, argued that their opponents should face a high burden to prove that the state's constitution was violated by the amendment.

“The ability of voters to decide what rights their constitution guarantees is a fundamental and sacred right,” the attorneys wrote.

Two law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller and Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, sued to block marijuana 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.

Circuit Judge Christina Klinger last month ruled in favor of Miller and Thom, finding problems with technicalities in the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. The judge reasoned that it violated constitutional law requiring constitutional amendments address a single subject. She also found it would have created broad changes to state government by granting authority to the Department of Revenue to oversee the marijuana program.

Attorneys for Miller and Thom have two weeks to file their arguments to the Supreme Court. A hearing date for oral arguments has not been set.

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