Newell Republican activist Travis Ismay really doesn’t like marijuana. In addition to his initiative to prevent South Dakotans from ever voting on legalizing marijuana or other “federally banned substances” (which, as one linguistically attentive reader notes, may not achieve its stated goal, as the legal term of art is “controlled“, not “banned”), Ismay last month sent the Legislative Research Council a proposal to repeal SDCL 34-20G, the medical cannabis law that South Dakotans approved via Initiated Measure 26 in 2020.
Either the LRC or Secretary of State Monae Johnson is getting sloppy: the posted LRC responses to initial drafts of initiated measures usually includes the exact text submitted by sponsors. LRC’s response to Ismay’s medical-cannabis ban simply says, “The proposed initiated measure repeals SDCL chapter 34-20G, the medical cannabis chapter.” LRC does not quote Ismay’s words, so I assume Ismay has offered a single, simple sentence to that effect.
Alas, the spoilsports at the LRC don’t want a single, simple sentence. Pointing to the Guide to Drafting Legislation (see examples in updated edition, Sep. 2023, pp. 71–73), LRC says Ismay should write and overstrike the full text of the chapter (95 sections, plus subsequent Legislative amendments and five bonus sections) he wishes to repeal. Instead of writing one sentence, Ismay would have to type out the nearly 12,000 words of SDCL 34-20G (and given his difficulty in typing the single sentence of his other initiative correctly, that could be a problem) and figure out how to use the Microsoft Word Strikethrough button. Worse, printed in the 14-point font required by democracy-hating Senator Al Novstrup’s 2021 Senate Bill 77 to sabotage initiatives, SDCL 34-20G runs 44 pages. Ismay will have to fit all of that text onto a single sheet of paper. Printing front and back, even with some narrow margins and tight formatting, Ismay would need a sheet of paper measuring 40 inches by 44 inches. (Ismay may have recruit his Spearfish neighbor John Dale to build him a giant clipboard… although I’m not sure pro-pot Dale will be inclined to help repeal the medical cannabis law.)
I’m not eager to re-illegalize medical cannabis, but I sympathize with Ismay’s petition-drafting plight. Ismay seeks a simple policy change: outlaw medical cannabis. He can express that intent in five simple words—”Repeal the medical cannabis chapter”—or in an even shorter statutory citation—”Repeal SDCL 34-20G”. The latter line clearly and completely captures the technical scope of Ismay’s proposal. That line, accompanied by the Attorney General’s title that would likely read, “An Act to repeal South Dakota’s medical cannabis laws”, would as effectively and more efficiently inform voters and potential petition signers of the full intent of Ismay’s initiative as/than nearly 12,000 overstricken words rolled out on an 18-foot scroll. Any voter who reads that single sentence and the accompanying AG’s title and still wonders what the initiative would do can whip out a phone and read the entire law online before signing the petition to eliminate it.
Requiring Ismay to print out the entire text of SDCL 34-20G is an unnecessary barrier to allowing Ismay and his supporters to invite voters to discuss an important public policy. Let Ismay state his proposal as a simple repeal of SDCL Chapter 34-20G, and let voters decide if they want to put that repeal to a vote.