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Compromise Offered on SD Medical Marijuana Debate

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Last fall, South Dakota became the first state to endorse two marijuana ballot questions in the same election. One was for a medical cannabis program and the other was to legalize recreational use for those 21 and older. (Adobe Stock)
Last fall, South Dakota became the first state to endorse two marijuana ballot questions in the same election. One was for a medical cannabis program and the other was to legalize recreational use for those 21 and older. (Adobe Stock)
February 23, 2021

PIERRE, S.D. -- Supporters of medical marijuana for South Dakota are trying to reach a compromise with Gov. Kristi Noem over an effort to delay implementation of such a program.

Last fall, nearly 70% of voters approved having the state develop a medical cannabis system. On the same ballot, 54% endorsed recreational marijuana for adults.

The governor is strongly opposed to both ideas, and recently introduced a proposal to delay the medical marijuana program until late 2022.

Melissa Mentele, executive director for New Approach South Dakota, said even though the approved amendment called for a start date of this year, reform groups are willing to push it back to next January.

"Our goals are simple: Protect medical-marijuana patients and effectuate the will of the people," Mentele stated. "Our compromise allows us to do this, even if it's at a slower pace."

In exchange for middle-ground on the timeline, advocates want legal protections for patients before ID cards are issued.

It's unclear yet if the offer will be considered.

Noem has said medical marijuana does more harm than good, while reform leaders argue those struggling with chronic illness will continue to suffer.

The governor also is at the center of a legal battle over implementation of recreational marijuana.

Mentele added they're hopeful lawmakers will take a strong look at their offer, noting if they choose a longer waiting period, they're going to have to face their constituents.

"The people of South Dakota want results," Mentele contended. "They want their votes to be respected. They don't want obstruction and delay and endless debate. "

Her group and other reform advocates pointed out they're also concerned that the timeline the governor proposed would give the state a longer window to "water down" the program.

Earlier this year, Noem said she's willing to honor the will of the voters on medical marijuana, but argued she didn't have enough time to study the issue for a program to start this year.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD