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Supporters seek to amend medical marijuana bill proposed by lawmakers

State Capitol House

The South Dakota House of Representatives

Medical marijuana advocates said Monday they are seeking a sponsor for an amendment to a House bill that gives the state an additional year to implement voter-approved Initiated Measure 26.

New Approach South Dakota and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws described their amendment as a compromise to what lawmakers are now proposing in House Bill 1100A. The ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana was approved by 70% of the voters in November. It is scheduled to take effect on July 1. House Bill 1100A, proposed and amended by Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, delays that until July 1, 2022.

Advocates say they expect “considerable support” in both chambers for the compromise. The bill will be debated on the House floor on Tuesday.

While the proposal allows more time than was in the ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana, it keeps protections in place for patients beginning July 1.

“By offering this compromise, we are making major concessions. We are agreeing to a delay that will make medical marijuana patients wait longer for legal and regulated safe access,” Melissa Mentele, executive director for New Approach South Dakota, said at a press conference Monday morning.

Mentele said the groups wanted to propose a “reasonable compromise” based on the concerns heard during testimony for HB 1100A. Legal protections for medical marijuana patients, however, are non-negotiable, she said.

“We are negotiating people’s lives with the Legislature, and we are not open to that. Patient protections have to be in place July 1. We have to protect the patients of South Dakota. They’ve waited long enough,” Mentele said.

The amendment also extends other deadlines in IM 26 to Jan. 31, 2022 — more time than the measure initially allotted for implementation, but less time than HB 1100A proposes. The other extensions include:

• Extending the Department of Health’s deadline to promulgate rules and regulations from Oct. 29, 2021, to Jan. 31, 2022. HB 1100A gives the DOH until Oct. 31, 2022.

• Extends the deadline to issue medical registration cards from Nov. 18 to Jan. 31, 2022. HB 1100A gives until Nov. 21, 2022 to do this.

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• Extending the deadline to establish a secure phone or web-based verification system for registry identification cards from Oct. 29 to Jan. 31, 2022. HB 1100A’s proposal moves this to July 1, 2022.

• Extending the DOH and the Department of Education’s deadline to establish a medicinal marijuana policy for schools from fall 2021 to Jan. 31, 2022. HB 1100A removes this provision.

Medicinal marijuana advocates also propose expanding the medical cannabis advisory committee and directing it to report recommended legislation to the Legislature by Dec. 15; increasing reporting requirements to monitor the implementation process, and clarify home cultivation limits for medical patients.

“We are making these concessions with a very heavy heart. We know that many medical marijuana patients advocates and supporters will be disappointed that Measure 26 will not be implemented as written. They are frustrated and angry that their votes are being ignored. We know that some medical marijuana patients will face hardships as a result of the changes proposed by our compromise. We know that the state was capable of implementing Measure 26 on the original timeline in the law. We know that these delays were avoidable. But we believe this is the right thing to do,” Mentele said.

The alternative, if HB 1100A passes as it now stands, would allow patients no protection under the law, which if prosecuted could lead to up to a year in jail for possession of a few grams. Mentele added that HB 1100A leaves the door open for legislators to later repeal Measure 26 entirely.

One of the other reasons the advocacy groups agreed to the compromise is because they recognize the DOH’s current obligations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matthew Schweich of the Marijuana Policy Project and South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws said advocates hope the Legislature will consider the proposal since it responds to legislative concerns and respects the will of the voters.

“We know that legislators want to do this the responsible way and we know that legislators want to listen to their constituents and respect the will of the people. This compromise allows us to do both. It’s a middle ground, and it’s something that could work for all sides,” Schweich said Monday.

Still, advocates said they were frustrated with the push back IM 26 has been receiving and that the compromise brings them no joy.

“Very sick people put this on the ballot, just like they were asked. And for [legislators] to come in during the last three weeks of session to try to overturn the will of the voters and delay it is heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating,” Mentele said.

“If the state had moved forward with implementation in earnest after Election Day then even the delays of our compromise would not have been necessary. And it is painful to have to accept this, especially since not only did we pass medical marijuana but we passed full legalization for adults, and now here we are negotiating over medical. The reality is that Governor Noem and others are very intent on rejecting the will of the people, and what we have on our side is over 70% support of Measure 26 … that’s what puts us in our position to compromise,” Schweich said. “We’re going up against considerable political force and we have to be pragmatic in order to get results.”

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