A newly formed group headed by veteran South Dakota cannabis activist Bob Newland has taken the first official steps toward getting a medical marijuana initiative on the November 2006 ballot there. South Dakotans for Safe Access, or SDSA, sent a proposed medical marijuana petition to the state's Legislative Review Council for review Tuesday. Once the language is reviewed by the council, signature-gatherers will have until May 2006 to obtain the nearly 17,000 valid signatures necessary to place the initiative on the ballot.
According to Newland, the initiative will set up a registry system within the state Department of Health that would allow qualifying patients and caretakers to avoid arrest and prosecution. The initiative will also include a "medical necessity" defense for people who have not yet obtained a registry card. Under this provision, people who are arrested and tried would be able to argue to a jury that they would qualify as a patient under the initiative.
"The wording is based on the wording of the medical cannabis petition that passed with 62% of the vote in Montana last year," Newland said. "We adapted it to refer to specific chapters and sections in South Dakota law. We're not at the 'engraved in stone' point yet," Newland continued. "We might change anything in the petition that's currently posted on the website. We're still looking for input, suggestions, on how to improve the language," he said.
"The Legislative Research Council has 15 days to comment on the proposed petition language and form, then we can either apply the LRC's suggestions or not," Newland said. "After that, we'll send the petition to the Secretary of State, according to proper procedure, and, on May 7, we can start circulating the petition for signatures of South Dakota voters."
The move comes in reaction to repeated failures to get movement on medical marijuana bills in the South Dakota legislature, which has rejected the bills three times since 2000. "The legislature is hopeless," Newland said. "They are so subservient to their perverted party lines that they are willing to watch people in agony suffer rather than do the right thing. People who need cannabis as medicine need it now. They can't afford to wait while a bunch of old drunk insurance agents and ex-bankers and retired farmers serving in the statehouse die off. From what we've seen the youngsters who replace them -- people who've smoked pot themselves -- are worse. We're sick of it. We'll do what's necessary to get this issue on the ballot."