South Dakota Medical Marijuana Initiative Takes First Step

On June 9, 2015, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley released an explanation for an initiated measure that would allow state residents suffering from debilitating conditions to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Once the necessary paperwork is filed with the Secretary of State’s office, supporters will able to begin the process of collecting the required 13,871 signatures to get on the ballot in 2016.

Marijuana activist Melissa Mentele submitted the initiative. Mentele, who suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, told the Casper Star Tribune that she is making the push in an effort to help other patients like herself suffering from debilitating medical illnesses.

“We’re trying to bring compassionate access onto the ballot, because that’s what we need in South Dakota,” Mentele said. “If somebody doesn’t fight to change the law, it’s going to stay a bad law.”

Under Mentele’s proposed measure, qualifying patients must be certified by a practitioner. Practitioners must have a bona fide relationship with their patients. This means that the practitioner has completed an assessment of the patient’s medical history, has conducted an in-person examination of the patient, is available for follow-ups, etc.

There are a total of 18 qualifying conditions, which are as follows: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, endometriosis, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, epilepsy, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, IBS, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe debilitating pain, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms.

Those suffering from other medical conditions not listed would be able to petition the South Dakota Department of Health to have it added. The department would be required to give public notice and hold a hearing on the petition before making a decision.

The department of health would have 180 days to issue a response.

Unlike other medical marijuana measures, Mentele’s proposed initiative protects patient’s rights by stipulating that “no person may be penalized, or denied any right or privilege, for conduct that is lawful under the measure.” In many states, medical marijuana may be legal but patients can still be fired or denied the right to employment based upon their status.

If Mentele’s proposed measure collects enough signatures to go on the ballot, it is going to face an uphill battle. South Dakota is the only state that has ever rejected a medical marijuana ballot initiative twice, once in 2006 and again in 2010.

However, as always, it is important to note the difference in political landscape. In the last five years, marijuana has seen a considerable increase in public approval, due in no small part to Colorado legalizing the substance in 2012.

Should medical marijuana return the South Dakota ballot in 2016, the results could be different. However, the question that still remains: would that difference be enough?

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