South Dakota AG abandons effort to defend adult-use marijuana initiative

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The South Dakota Attorney General’s Office is dropping its defense of a voter-approved adult-use marijuana amendment after earlier asserting in court that the initiative was constitutional.

The AG’s decision comes after a circuit court judge appointed by Gov. Kristi Noem ruled that the initiative is unconstitutional, setting up an appeal by legalization backers to the state Supreme Court.

State AG offices are obligated to defend state laws that come under legal attack.

But Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s office said in a statement that he fulfilled that obligation by defending the initiative in lower court and won’t take those efforts any further, according to the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which helped lead the South Dakota legalization campaign, criticized the decision.

“It’s difficult to understand when he (Ravnsborg) argued clearly that it (the initiative) was lawful,” Matt Schweich, deputy director of MPP, told Marijuana Business Daily on Monday.

But Schweich said he remains confident the South Dakota Supreme Court will uphold the legality of the initiative and the will of the voters.

The MPP is working with legalization group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws in preparing an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

South Dakota voters approved recreational marijuana legalization by a margin of roughly 54% to 46% on Nov. 3.

But Noem, an anti-marijuana Republican, soon after directed South Dakota Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Rick Miller to initiate a lawsuit challenging the initiative as unconstitutional.

The challenge is based on technical grounds, in part claiming that the ballot language violated the state’s single-subject rule.