South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Gets Good Marks, Except on Marijuana

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem Gets Good Marks–Except on Marijuana

South Dakota voters are giving Gov. Kristi Noem (R) good marks on her job performance — except when it comes to marijuana policy and the way in which her administration has sought to undermine the will of the electorate, which approved a legalization ballot measure last year.

A statewide telephone poll showed that an average of 61% of voters strongly or somewhat approve of Noem’s job performance across five categories in her first term. But just 39% said they approve of her handling of marijuana legalization, with 51% disapproving.

One-third of respondents said they strongly disapprove of the governor when it comes to cannabis, while 18% said they somewhat disapprove. Twenty-eight percent of Republicans, 38% of Democrats and 39% of independents said they strongly disapproved of Noem’s handling of the issue. Another 16% of GOP voters, 23% of Democrats and 17% of independents somewhat disapprove of the governor’s actions on cannabis.

While Noem — who is up for reelection next year — has seemingly recognized the popularity of marijuana reform in recent months and has attempted to tie herself to the rollout of a voter-approved medical cannabis program, it appears voters haven’t forgotten how she adamantly opposed a separate adult-use legalization initiative residents also passed last November.

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In fact, it was a lawsuit funded by her administration that led to a court ruling voiding the recreational marijuana law — a decision upheld by the state Supreme Court last month when justices affirmed the measure is unconstitutional because it violated a single subject rule for ballot initiatives.

“The people did weigh in on [cannabis reform], and it’s very easy to see what she is doing as far as working to counter what 53% of the voters said they wanted in regard to recreational marijuana,” David Wiltse, a political science professor at South Dakota State University, said of the survey results.

The poll was sponsored by South Dakota News Watch and the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota and involved interviews with 500 registered voters from October 20-23 with a +/- 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

“Of the five topics on which Noem was rated in the poll, she fared by far the worst in regard to marijuana,” South Dakota News Watch said in its analysis.

Noem has consistently faced criticism from advocates and stakeholders over her early opposition to cannabis reform. She released an ad ahead of last year’s election urging residents to vote against the legalization initiative that ultimately passed 54-46%.

“The fact is, I’ve never met someone who got smarter from smoking pot,” the governor said. “It’s not good for our kids. And it’s not going to improve our communities.”

Noem drew the ire of advocates after she vetoed a hemp legalization bill in 2019. But after outlining a series of policy requests, she approved amended legislation to legalize the crop and CBD oil last year.

The governor now seems committed to associating herself with the implementation of a medical cannabis legalization initiative that voters overwhelmingly approved last year, despite having opposed the proposal in the run-up to the election.

After regulators approved rules for the medical marijuana program in September, Noem said her administration “is fully on board to make certain South Dakota continues to implement the most responsible, patient-focused medical cannabis program in the country.”

Noem tried to get the legislature to approve a bill to delay implementation of the medical cannabis program for an additional year, but while it cleared the House, negotiators were unable to reach an agreement with the Senate in conference.

This piece is part of a content-sharing arrangement between The News Station and Marijuana Moment.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, etc.

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