Panel digs into South Dakota’s marijuana laws

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Legislature might try again this fall to make changes in South Dakota’s new medical-marijuana laws, a committee’s chairman said Wednesday.

Senator Bryan Breitling told other lawmakers on the Marijuana Interim Study that the attempt could come when the Legislature holds a special session for drawing boundaries for the 35 legislative districts, a process that occurs every 10 years.

South Dakota voters in November approved a 95-section set of medical marijuana laws 291,754 to 125,488. The laws technically take effect July 1, but the actual start for many of them will be months later.

State Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon testified Wednesday about her department’s schedule for medical marijuana. She said administrative rules need to be effective by October 29, and certification cards need to be able to be issued to patients and caregivers by November 18.

“We’ve had people ask us, ‘Where would I be able to apply for my medical marijuana card on July 1?’ And so we’re just needing to help people really understand that it will be — will not be — ready on July 1,” Malsam-Rysdon said, correcting herself, “and that certainly by these other dates we intend to have the processes in place.”

Health Department attorney Justin Williams said many decisions still need to be made, such as fee amounts. He said the proposed rules would be published in July, followed by a public hearing in August. The department-approved rules would then need final clearance in September from the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee so they can take effect in October, he said.

The department recently created an internet link for the medical marijuana program at doh.sd.gov/news/. South Dakota-grown marijuana likely won’t be available through dispensaries until summer 2022, according to Malsam-Rysdon.

Voters also passed a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for people age 21 and older 225,260 to 190,477. But Amendment A is on hold while the South Dakota Supreme Court considers its legality. Governor Kristi Noem successfully challenged it in state circuit court, filing the lawsuit just weeks after losing at the ballot box.

The Republican governor and various Republican lawmakers also tried to delay medical marijuana by six months or a year, but that effort hit a stalemate as the 2021 legislative session ended in March.

Among the day-long series of witnesses Wednesday were Dr. Benjamin Aaker of Yankton, who’s president for the South Dakota State Medical Association, which opposed legalizing medical marijuana, and Melissa Mentele of Emery, who sponsored IM 26.

Mentele said her “third-hand information” was that physicians for Avera, Sanford and Monument healthcare systems wouldn’t be allowed to certify South Dakota patients for medical marijuana.

Tim Rave, president for South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations, later said he checked and found that wasn’t true for Avera and Sanford. Rave said he was told the choice would be up to each physician.

But Sarah Aker, the association’s director for fiscal policy, later said physicians have expressed reluctance about signing the certification cards.

That’s because, under South Dakota law, they would be “stating that in the practitioner’s professional opinion the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the medical use of cannabis to treat or alleviate the patient’s debilitating medical condition or symptom associated with the debilitating medical condition.”

South Dakota will be the 36th state to adopt medical marijuana laws. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law.

Another witness Wednesday was Jeremy Daniel, a member of the pharmacy program faculty at South Dakota State University. He listed six symptoms that people sometimes treat with marijuana. He said studies found the effectiveness was low for nausea and vomiting, low to moderate for appetite stimulation, somewhat low for glaucoma, moderate for seizures and epilepsy, high for pain relief, and varied for PTSD from effective after about a month to causing more problems after about four months.

Roxanne Hammond, a prosecutor for the Pennington County State’s Attorney Office, pointed out a variety of problems for enforcement and other issues. She told the committee the best approach might be to repeal and replace IM 26.

But, Hammond added, as a former member of the Legislative Research Council staff, she understood the sensitivity of the Legislature trying to repeal a measure that voters passed.

Voters in 2016 approved IM 22 but Republican lawmakers won a favorable court ruling to delay it and then repealed it altogether, replacing many parts but tossing aside a publicly funded campaign-finance program.

The marijuana committee meets again Thursday, starting with one hour of public testimony at 8:30 a.m. CT.

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