SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The word ‘validate’ has been added in place of ‘prescribe’ and ‘recommend’ in this article to more accurately describe the process through which doctors assist patients with getting a medical cannabis card.

Though medical marijuana has officially been legal in South Dakota since July 1, 2021, access through the state program may be a challenge.

As of March 29, 2022, the Department of Health (DOH) reports that only 90 South Dakota doctors have been approved to validate the use of medical marijuana to their patients.

According to state rules, a physician is needed to begin the process of a medical card application. A prospective patient must schedule an appointment with a physician who is licensed to prescribe medication. According to state law, you will need an in-person visit with a physician with whom you have a ‘bona fide practitioner-patient relationship.’

Once you have met with your physician, the practitioner will make the decision on whether you would benefit from medical cannabis. If the physician decides to move forward, they will need to create an account with the DOH, which must be approved before the application can progress. If the doctor’s account is approved, an email will be sent to the patient to create an account of their own.

As of March 29, there are 306 approved patient card applications, 21 pending applications and zero have been denied, according to DOH data.

Along with the 90 approved physician accounts, there are currently 3 pending and 45 have been denied. DOH content developer and web strategist Jennifer Baker noted that denied applications for physician accounts are typically patients inadvertently applying through the physician portal.

KELOLAND News has asked Baker how many of the 45 denials were genuine practitioners who have been denied along with reasons for the denials. We have not yet received an answer. An additional request to speak with Medical Cannabis Program Administrator Geno Adams has not been granted.

The 90 approved physicians represent just 4.07% of the state’s 2,214 total active physicians, according to the 2021 South Dakota Physician Workforce Profile.

With fewer than 100 practitioners who are currently able to guide patients through the application process, it may be difficult for a patient to find a physician willing and able to help. With a total population estimate of 895,376, this would mean that there is currently only one doctor to validate the use of medical cannabis for every 9,948.6 South Dakotans.

Not every South Dakotan will qualify for the use of medical cannabis, but we can get an idea of the number by looking at another state.

With a population of 973,764, Delaware is the closest medical marijuana state to South Dakota in terms of residency. As of 2020, 1.59% of Delaware residents were medical marijuana patients. It is also worth noting that licensed physicians in Delaware do not need state certification to validate the use marijuana.

Applying Delaware’s medical marijuana patient rate of 1.59% to South Dakota, we can estimate a potential patient population of around 14,236 South Dakotans. With 90 doctors currently approved by the state, this would mean that there is one doctor for every 158.18 potential medical cannabis patients in South Dakota.

Beyond patient/practitioner data, the DOH also provided the numbers of approved applications for different types of cannabis establishments.

Dispensary applications lead the pack with 126 approved applications, followed by cultivation-only facilities in a distant second place with 16 approved. At the bottom of the list are manufacturing and testing facilities, each of which currently have only one approved application.