Feature: South Dakota Medical Marijuana Backers Take Aim at the Statehouse

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #563)
Drug War Issues

In 2006, South Dakota gained the dubious distinction of being the only state to defeat an initiative that would have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. That effort failed narrowly, garnering 48% of the popular vote. But now, South Dakota marijuana reform activists are back, and they are hoping to move a bill through the state legislature in the session beginning next month.

[inline:southdakota.jpg align=left caption="South Dakota badlands"]According to Bob Newland, spokesman for South Dakotans for Safe Access, a proposed bill that would allow qualifying patients to cultivate, possess, and use medical marijuana has been drafted, and the hunt is on for sponsors. The legislative session begins next month, and any bill to be considered must be introduced by early February.

Newland said the group is also considering other legislation, including a bill to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule IV and a bill that would allow an affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients.

"Everything is moving much faster than we thought it would," said Newland. "We've lined up a couple of stellar medical witnesses and may get a couple more, and I think we have a good doctor lined up, too. There has been lots of email and phone support in the couple of weeks since we announced we were moving ahead, and lots of donations, too. Now, we need to find sponsors."

Newland said he was working on that this week, holding meetings in the state capital, Pierre, on Thursday and talking to Democratic Party members in Sioux Falls, the state's largest city, today.

A change in the state's approach to medical marijuana couldn't come early enough for patients. Not only does South Dakota not recognize medical marijuana, it is a state where people actually go to jail for simple possession -- and to prison for growing even a pair of plants.

"We absolutely need a medical marijuana law, and not just for AIDS patients, but for cancer, glaucoma, you name it," said Western South Dakota rancher Tom Faltynowicz, an AIDS sufferer. "It would make a huge difference not having to worry about being busted for something that's keeping me alive. The law needs to change."

Faltynowicz speaks from personal experience. While he has being using medical marijuana with his doctor's knowledge and approval for nearly 20 years, that didn't stop him from being arrested and prosecuted for growing his own medicine. Earlier this year, Faltynowicz pleaded guilty to possession of more than two ounces but less than a pound of marijuana, a felony under South Dakota law.

Fortunately for him, and thanks to letter-writing efforts to his sentencing judge, Faltynowicz was sentenced only to probation, including drug testing, and was specifically allowed to use Marinol during his probation. (Since drug tests only detect the presence of THC, they cannot distinguish between Marinol and marijuana.)

"We need it as much as ever, not only for the people suffering within the state, but to show the rest of America that a red state like South Dakota can accept this," said medical marijuana patient Valerie Hannah, who served as a spokesperson for the 2006 initiative. "If someplace like South Dakota can pass medical marijuana legislation, that should be a huge wakeup call for the federal government to stop prosecuting patients as criminals," she said.

But it won't be easy. Republicans dominate both houses of the state legislature, where earlier bills went nowhere. The Republican attorney general, Larry Long, spearheaded law enforcement opposition to the 2006 initiative and appears ready to reprise that role in the coming months.

"Long had some complaints about the wording of the 2006 initiative," said Newland. "I am telling Long that South Dakotans for Safe Access is willing to work with the attorney general's office in drafting a law all of us can live with."

According to his spokesperson, Sara Rabern, Long remains opposed to medical marijuana. "His stance is still the same," she said Thursday. Long was traveling, and Rabern did not know whether he would be amenable to working with the bill's sponsors to address law enforcement concerns.

"It will be an uphill battle in the legislature," Hannah predicted. "We need someone with clout to carry our message in Pierre, and we need to get some real grassroots support going," Hannah said. "I fear they will throw it out again, but if we can get out of committee and make it to a floor vote, that would be real progress."

Another key constituency in medical marijuana battles is the medical profession. In several states that have had successful medical marijuana campaigns, state nursing and/or medical associations have publicly supported the therapeutic use of marijuana. That's not the case in South Dakota.

"We haven't looked at this issue for awhile," said Brittany Novotny, head of the South Dakota Nurses Association. "We do not take a formal stance for or against. If this comes up in the next session, our government relations committee will have to decide whether this is a fight we want to be part of or not."

The South Dakota State Medical Association did not return calls seeking comment.

One factor that may be working in favor of the legislation is the closeness of the 2006 vote, which demonstrated significant, if not quite majority support for medical marijuana, and the threat of another effort to go direct to the voters in 2010. "Maybe the fear of leaving this to the people will prod them into action," said Hannah. "One of the big concerns here is how this will affect illegal drug use in South Dakota, but if crafted correctly, the bill could be a boon to law enforcement. If they are willing to sit down and work with us, we could come up with a bill that could address their concerns."

Newland said he is hard at work on endorsements from medical professionals, as well as working with some churches to garner support. While the effort faces long odds, Newland remains optimistic. "The last time we went to the legislature, we didn't have 48% of the people voting for medical marijuana two years earlier. We had always bargained from a position of weakness, but now we have a club to carry into the hearing rooms."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Is there anything i can do for the helping with reversing all,ALL Cannabis laws here in Canada??
I am being approved for the Federal Governments Medical Marijuana from
Flin Flon ,Manitoba .I am a person with numerous disability's & am living
with the help of all levels of the government here in Canada. There must be
some way i would/could be able to help with USA politics(being our "neighbors" really) !!
I will anxiously await your reply.May God (as you understand Him,It ,etc,et al)
to be bless you in your work,efforts,independance defiance of "unjust law(s)"
Thanx for being & doing what ya do o.k.
see ya later ..........Have a nice day

Fri, 12/05/2008 - 5:56pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)


Sat, 12/06/2008 - 1:23pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)


Sat, 12/06/2008 - 1:24pm Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

Even republicans change their tune when it is one of their loved ones that benefits from the medicinal use of THC. Being a conservative Christian, I know where a lot of them are coming from. Too bad they don't show the mercy their own God does! Too many are, too, willing to be judgemental, without knowing all the facts!

Even Ron Paul (Republican MD-congressman) realizes the insanity of the present state of the "war on drugs" (and against patients and their doctors)!



Sun, 12/07/2008 - 5:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

poeple look at marinol as a viable alternative, but this shit sucks compared to the home made cannabis pills. Firstly, finding a pharmacy that carries marinol is such a gigantic hassle.
Secondly , the cost of marinol is 15 dollars a dose and i cant afford 60 $ dollars in pills each day, not as a retired cripple living on a limited income.
i can medical marijuana pills that work better , for pennies a peice.
Thirdly, the shits safe , good and effective medicine , the only poeple who debate that are the governments criminal justice poeple, and they are all wrong. The shits fine , safe , and makes the crippled poeple feel good in there pain filled decrepit days. Let us live happy and free without the governments lies and meaningless legal Hassles their elderly. Please blame them for forcing us to live in pain!
In conclusion , its time for the lies and bueracracy to stop , and the government should allow the ill to produce their own meds , or make medicine easily available to the sick. This goverment foot dragging and pointless argueing is a irritation to those that are currently suffering. Legalize Medical marijuana for the sick, and please get it done before we die. Thankyou

Sun, 12/07/2008 - 8:49pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Whats really Ironic is that the Governor that made it mandatory to go to jail for any amount of marijuana got hopped up on prescription drugs and decided drive. We he didn't see a stop sign he killed a biker. Where is he now? Worker as a lawyer in South Dakota. Maybe the AG should shift priorities rather than focusing on locking up cancer and AIDS patients.

Mon, 12/08/2008 - 1:33pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the first time I have seen a price named for Marinol, so for sake of argument let me take your word for it, $15 a dose.

Now for comparison let us sift down an ounce (28.35-g.) of decent herb, and use a screened single-toke utensil, allowing 25-mg. servings, or 1134 servings per ounce if no sifting were done to achieve a manageable particle size for use in the one-hitter. This option is not as good as a vaporizer but worth discussing because it is cheaper.

After removal of seeds and stems, we have 800 to 900 single tokes, thus if we paid black market price $280 an ounce, 35 or 31 cents per serving. For reference, cigarettes in a high-tax state, @ $7 a pack, are 35 cents per 700-mg. hot-burning overdose finished off in a few minutes.

This virtual parity achieved during prohibition and black market times, imagine what the dosage cost will be when every user may grow their own. Big Tobackgo hang your head and cry.

Mon, 12/08/2008 - 10:29pm Permalink

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