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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) – People from nearby Sioux Falls and as far away as Rapid City (380 miles) lined up outside Unity Rd. Cannabis Shop in Hartford on Wednesday to become the first patients to buy legal, state-licensed marijuana in South Dakota history.

From Noon until 8 p.m. about 150 people made those historic purchases.

They weren’t your run-of-the-mill monetary exchanges for goods.

“It’s been an emotional day all around,” said B.J. Olson, the co-owner of the state’s first state-licensed dispensary to open. A pair of tribal-owned shops — one in Flandreau and another in Pine Ridge — opened on Native American reservations in the last year.

“We’ve had people coming right up to us after they’ve made their purchase, giving us hugs and thanking us for being able to be tenacious and get this product available. We’ve had a lot of customers crying, just buying the product. Nobody gets this emotional at CVS. Nobody gets this emotional at Walgreens.”

Olson, a Tea native and Hartford resident who insisted on opening Unity Rd. in the city where he lays his head and goes to church, said he “can’t tell you many tears I’ve shed already.”

The grand opening followed nearly two years of starting the business with best friend Adam Jorgensen and playing “hopscotch” with all the state government red tape Unity Rd. and other dispensary and cultivation center owners have had to endure.

“This is absolutely unreal that this is happening,” Olson said in between handshakes and hugs with his new clients in the parking lot. “It’s been a long time in the making.”

Kerie Jones of Sioux Falls described the day as “amazing.”

For 22 years, Jones has suffered severe migraine headaches and chronic neck and back pain from being hit by a drunk driver.

Jones is relieved she finally has a natural, legal option in her home state to medicate the pain after years of doctors prescribing her opioids that gave her irritating side effects.

“They tried to put me on oxycodone, morphine, and all kinds of stuff that made me really cranky,” Jones said. “My meds would be up and down. So with cannabis, I don’t have that. I don’t get high. I don’t get affected by it. I’m a better human, a better mom, and I’m able to function normally without all the pain of migraines.”

Jones was one of the first five purchasers of state-licensed cannabis in South Dakota history, and so were three of her colleagues from New Hope Approach South Dakota, a group that petitioned and lobbied for this day to come for seven years.

Her emotions ran twice as deep as many who were there. Jones’ grandmother Betty “starved to death” in 2016 while suffering from pancreatic cancer. What could cannabis have done?

”She would not have suffered as much at the end,” Jones said, fighting back tears. “She would’ve been able to eat and feel better. Today would’ve been a really good day for her. I wish she could be here to see this right now.”

New Approach’s committee chair Melissa Mentele was the second patient to make a purchase after the store opened at noon, with a line of about three dozen people stretching around one corner of the small building.

One of Mentele’s children had a seizure disorder that she said put the family “through hell for a few years” without the ability to obtain cannabis, and she has had chronic shoulder pain for a decade.

Having legal and available medical marijuana will greatly help alleviate what Mentele calls an “opioid epidemic and meth problem that is awful” in South Dakota.

Another problem without legal cannabis, Mentele said, is the “black market” of illegal marijuana that some patients resort.

“You don’t know what you’re getting,” Mentele said. “If you’ve ordered cannabis, you don’t know if that cannabis dealer has fentanyl or opioids or methamphetamine.

“In this case, (a legal cannabis store) takes medicine and puts it where it needs to be. It puts it behind the counters in a regulated market.”

Mentele is a co-owner of her own dispensary, 605 Cannabis LLC, which will open in Worthing before the end of the year.

Olson, meanwhile, enjoyed the fruits of having the first dispensary open, and while his tears — and those of many others — were ones of “absolute joy,” his staff did leave some patients devastated by turning them down.

A South Dakota medical cannabis card is required to purchase any legal marijuana. One customer had an out-of-state card. Another had a tribal card. Another had a doctor’s recommendation.

“To turn somebody away, the look on their face,” Olson said, pausing, “I hope we don’t have to face it too many more times.”

Patients must obtain a South Dakota medical cannabis card from their physicians, or a licensed nurse or physician’s assistant. The best resource to start the process, Olson said, is this website >> https://www.mymarijuanacards.com/south-dakota/.

Only the “flower” version of cannabis is sold at Unity Rd., with oils and edibles coming in three to five weeks, Olson said.

There are three types of cannabis a patient can choose from, and prices at Unity Rd. are steep compared to surrounding states.

An eighth of an ounce costs $65 plus tax, almost twice as much as the average cost at legal dispensaries in Colorado.

“It’s supply and demand,” Olson said as the owner of one of just three dispensaries in the state to sell the product, and 1,600 South Dakota citizens eligible to buy it.

Several more dispensaries in the Sioux Falls area are expected to open by the end of the year. By 2024, he said some 1/8 ounce products could see for as low as $25-30.

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