PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The Health and Human Services Committee made several revisions to medicinal marijuana laws that will now be sent to the Senate floor, but revisions to the medical purpose defense failed to advance for now.
After a contentious debate during Friday’s hearing, the committee decided to table Senate Bill 20 for later consideration after a majority was not received to kill the bill entirely. The bill would amend the current medical purpose defense in place states that those accused of possessing marijuana can claim that they could be prescribed medical marijuana by a physician, but at the time of possessing marijuana, they do not have a registered identification card on their person.
State lawmakers last March approved the defense when the state was still trying to get their medical program up and running. At the time it was not clear if a medical marijuana program would be in place by the July 1 deadline set by voters and the medical purpose defense would allow patients who were waiting to apply for and receive a registered card, to possess marijuana.
Friday, the committee heard arguments for and against revising the rule to state that it could only be used for qualified card holders, or care givers acting on behalf of a qualified card holder. Mark Vargo, a state attorney with Pennington County, argued that the defense as it stands will waste the time and resources of law enforcement and prosecutors. In his testimony, Vargos said he believes that those who were not in possession of a card at the time likely bought marijuana illegally.
Both proponents and opponents argued that the defense is no different than being without an insurance card when pulled over at a traffic stop. But proponents of SB20 said that unlike in those situations, these people would not be able to later produce a card that would be required to dismiss any criminal charges. Proponents of the revised bill argued that if allowed to continue as it is, it would all but make recreational marijuana legal for those using the medical purpose defense without a registered identification card.
After several minutes of debate on both sides, a motion was passed to move the bill to the 41st day of the session, which would have killed the bill in the committee. Without a majority voting yes on the motion, it was decided to table the bill for later discussion.
The six other bills introduced in the committee Friday passed to the Senate floor for further discussion.
Senate Bill 26 was another heavily debated bill as it aims to broaden the definition of practitioner to include physician assistants and registered nurses. Senator David Wheeler (R-Huron) introduced the bill saying that a practitioner, as defined now, only allows physicians to diagnose patients and prescribe medicinal marijuana. Wheeler, and other proponents of the bill, argued that for patients in rural communities, access to physicians is limited and many patients would struggle to see one for a diagnosis to apply for an identification card.
The South Dakota Medical Association spoke against the revised bill saying that voters of IM26 did so believing it would be a physician prescribing marijuana. The two spokespeople for the medical association also said that due to the nature of the debilitating conditions that require medicinal marijuana, only a physician should be able to make that diagnosis.
Senate Bill 17 which seeks to make revisions to provisions on cost reimbursement with medical marijuana passed with no opposition. Senate Bill 18 will make minor changes to the language included in Initiated Measure 26 that stated that there would be implementation by October 29, 2021. The program was launched after that date. The bill also aims to make clarifications regarding the seed to sale program which only applies to professional and commercial growers, not home growing.
Senate Bill 19 as amended will allow health care facilities and accredited prevention and treatment facilities to create their own medical marijuana policies. Terry Dosch with South Dakota Behavioral Health gave testimony that facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funding could be negatively impacted if a patient were prescribed medical marijuana as it is still illegal on a federal scale.
Senate Bills 21 and 27 dealt with the denial, nonrenewal or revoking of an identification card.
This week, the South Dakota Department of Health issued the first registration certificates for medical cannabis dispensaries in the state. Custom Touch in Wagner, Dakota Dispensaries in Watertown, and Puffy’s in Keystone all received certificates of registration.