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Is Kristi Noem Trying to Retract South Dakota Cannabis Legalization…Again?

New attempt to retract South Dakota cannabis legalization
Written by Sarah Friedman

South Dakota legally voted in medical cannabis in 2020; but a new effort by Travis Ismay is trying to take it away.

Poor South Dakota has some of the worst leadership out there. Case in point, Kristi Noem; who seems to be trying to take away yet another voter-approved cannabis legalization.

South Dakota and cannabis

Before getting into the current story, let’s go through the mess of South Dakota and its cannabis legalization measures; and what has already been taken away. In 2020, South Dakota made history by passing two cannabis legalization measures via voter ballot. One for medical, and one for recreational.

Measure 26, a medical legalization law, passed with 70% of voters saying yes. Amendment A, a ballot to institute an adult-use recreational market, also passed with 54% giving it a yes vote. South Dakota was the first state to pass a medical and recreational bill at the same time. However, problems started right away; all pushed by governor, Kristi Noem.

Noem didn’t do everything directly. Instead, she backhandedly conspired with local law enforcement officers Superintendent Rick Miller and Sheriff Kevin Thom. They were the ones that filed a lawsuit to invalidate the recreational win, by saying it broke the single-subject ballot rule. This rule indicates a ballot measure cannot cover more than one topic. Of course, this is automatically strange, as the state supreme court had to approve the language of this (and any) ballot measure, in order to get it onto the ballot. Meaning it was approved before the vote.

South Dakota voted in medical and recreational cannabis
South Dakota voted in medical and recreational cannabis

The conspiracy between the three was made public on January 8th 2021, when Noem filed an executive order to repeal the recreational win; which made it pretty clear this was all at her behest. Noem had worked hard to keep these measures off the ballot, so this move was in line with her stated opinion of not wanting legal weed in any capacity.

She must have forgotten that a voter ballot isn’t about her opinion. In the end, presiding judge for the case Christina Klinger, ruled in favor of Noem. Klinger had been appointed to her job by Noem earlier. Later in the year, the Supreme Court upheld it, even though arguments against it included that it violated the direct will of the people.

What’s more, Noem didn’t stop with taking away a fairly won voter ballot for recreational weed. She tried to get a bill approved in congress to delay the opening of the medical market for a year later than the enforced date on the ballot, of April 1, 2022. Luckily she did not succeed on this one. Ballot measures are much harder for a legislature to amend since they don’t originate in the legislature. This is likely why she worked to invalidate Amendment A, rather than try to amend it. Basically, the people of the state voted in two measures, and their own governor did everything she could to invalidate their desires.

It gets so weird, that in 2022, South Dakota again held a recreational ballot measure, to make up for the one taken away by its governor. But get this, in a country that only gets more liberal toward weed, and in a state that already passed a legalization measure two years prior (which means two further years of liberalization on this front), somehow, this one didn’t pass. Perhaps Kristi Noem at it again? Working to make sure South Dakotans don’t get a fair legalization…?

Current news on South Dakota and cannabis

The news coming out of South Dakota now, isn’t directly related to Kristi Noem. But, its also really good to remember that when she worked to take away the recreational legalization, she did it quite backhandedly, going through law enforcement, and having them make the official move. So, it suffices to say that its not that out-of-bounds to think that a new policy attempt to remove the medical legalization, is simply Noem at it again.

This time around, the person officially pushing for the retraction, is activist Travis Ismay. Not a member of law enforcement or the legislature. And a guy who brazenly and publicly responded to a country commissioner who explained how medical cannabis helped his dying mother, with the line that he ‘doesn’t care’.

Medical cannabis in jeopardy in South Dakota
Medical cannabis in jeopardy in South Dakota

He also, apparently, defended an email with jokes about a clan lynching in his home of Butte Country. His argument against medical cannabis? It might lead to meth… or some crazy nonsense like that. I expect the guy stands by what he says, I also expect he made a great patsy for Kristi Noem; who has been working to take away voter-won cannabis rights since they were won.

Anyway, Ismay filed a petition to get the medical legalization repealed. And he didn’t stop there. This non-politician is also trying to keep future cannabis measures from entering voter ballots. As in, this private citizen wants to take it upon himself to ensure that other private citizens of his state, don’t get their voices heard. Ismay filed this paperwork back in May.

Shockingly (or not, in this state), attorney general Marty Jackley released a summary of the ballot, indicating that if Ismay collects the necessary 17,509 validated signatures, that the measure can be voted on. Luckily this is unlikely, as 70% did pass the original measure back in 2020. However, in a state where legislators and law enforcement continuously stamp on the rights of their residents, it also can’t be ruled out.

New efforts for recreational ballot

If Ismay gets his way, he could prevent future ballot measures for legalization in the state, so long as cannabis is illegal federally. Luckily, activist group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is both working to block Ismay’s attempts; and gearing up for yet another recreational ballot measure in 2024. Unfortunately, it will not be for 2023. It seems Ohio is the only state with a voter ballot this election season; and it was a difficult process in that state too. There was so much push back from the legislature, it took an extra year.

In terms of dealing with Ismay, executive director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, Matthew Schweich, wrote to Secretary of State Monae Johnson, saying, as per Marijuana Moment, “We strongly believe that the rules of our state’s initiative process should be applied consistently to all South Dakotans. Therefore, we respectfully recommend that your office take the following action: revoke Ismay’s approved petition and direct him to refile it.”

New ballot measure in motion for 2024
New ballot measure in motion for 2024

Schweich continued that the petition to repeal doesn’t list the statutes meant to be undone; and in place of this, refers to “Exhibit A for the 95 sections that will be repealed.” However, an already existent statute makes clear that any petition must contain “the full text of the initiated measure.”

Explained Schweich, “Our interpretation of this statute is that a reference to additional text, in this case an exhibit, is not permissible. And even if a reference were permitted, in this instance ‘Exhibit A’ is not included anywhere on the petition. Furthermore, ‘Exhibit A’ is never defined in any previous initiative-related filing by Ismay with your office, the South Dakota Legislative Research Council, or the South Dakota attorney general.”

As of right now, South Dakota has 11,500 medical cannabis card holders. The expected number by 2024, wast 6,000; which shows medical cannabis is more popular than what the state predicted. By almost double. A retraction of the medical cannabis law would mean leaving these people who just won the right to have their medicine; completely without it. Talk about a state that really looks after its people! I guess Kristi Noem probably prefers that people take opioids. Or perhaps whatever opioid alternative is made by Sanford Health, her biggest contributor from 2009-2018.


Should South Dakota residents be afraid of losing their medical cannabis legalization? You’d think the answer would be a clear ‘no’ with a voter ballot that passed with 70% of the vote in 2020, and nearly twice as many medical patients as expected already enrolled. But in a state like South Dakota, this cannot be said for sure; as the governance has repeatedly gone out of its way, to trample on the well won rights of its people.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.