PIERRE - Advocates of a medical marijuana law in South Dakota, buoyed by 48 percent support for an initiated measure in 2006, are preparing to ask the next Legislature to debate the issue.
If the Legislature would take up the issue, its members would have an influence on the final form of a law allowing marijuana to be used by patients undergoing cancer treatment, dealing with glaucoma or experiencing severe or chronic pain or nausea, said Bob Newland of Hermosa.
If lawmakers don't take advantage of the opportunity to help craft such a law, it likely will be taken to the ballot, where it lost in the 2006 general election by a 52.3 to 47.7 margin, Newland said.
"That 48 percent is a pretty big hammer to take to the Legislature," he said.
"They can be involved in writing the final law."
The 2005 Legislature killed a medical-marijuana bill. After that, Newland and others went to the ballot with an initiated measure in 2006.
The 2005 bill, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Lange, D-Madison, failed on an 11-1-committee vote.
Opposition from attorney general
Attorney General Larry Long's staff opposed the bill in 2005, arguing that it would open the door for more illegal marijuana use and noting that even if South Dakota passed such a law, growth, possession and use of marijuana still would be illegal under federal law.
Asked on Friday for the attorney general's current views on medical marijuana, Sara Rabern of Long's staff said, "Larry said his opposition has not changed."
Newland said he's convinced that if the issue returns to the ballot, voters will approve it. That makes it likely that legislators will be more receptive to a real debate over the issue than happened in 2005, he said. He also said in written updates on the issue that advocates will have "medical cannabis patients and their doctors ready to testify in legislative hearings.
Lange said he introduced the 2005 bill at the request of a constituent who failed to appear to testify.
"I was left hanging out to dry at the committee," Lange said. '
"At the time, I collected quite a bit of evidence about the issue. I'm not likely to invest a lot of time on it again ... I think the mood (of legislators) is probably about the same as it was then."
Arguments for and against proposal
Under the proposal, a patient could use the substance if a doctor signed a recommendation saying that cannabis use would benefit the patient. The 2006 initiative limited a qualifying patient to no more than six marijuana plants and one ounce of usable marijuana.
During the 2006 campaign, a Hermosa woman and veteran of the Gulf War said marijuana relieved "the deep muscle pain that is caused by my exposure to nerve gas" during that war. Valerie Hannah wrote the ballot-pamphlet arguments in favor of the initiative. She said that complete protection from law enforcement wouldn't be assured until federal law changed, but 99 percent of marijuana arrests are state or local, so the initiative would "almost completely remove the chance that patients will be imprisoned for treating our illnesses."
Hughes County Sheriff Mike Leidholt wrote the opposing arguments. He said surveys of New Jersey and California high-school students indicated 60 percent said fear of getting in trouble with the law was a major deterrent to drug use.
"There are many other options for pain management that are legal and have met the stringent standards of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)," Leidholt wrote. "Any attempt to legitimize the use of marijuana for any purpose will cause more use and abuse of the drug and increases in the societal problems associated with drug use."
Newland sees the issue as one of giving suffering patients access to medication.
By The Associated Press
Monday, December 01, 2008
Rapid City Journal
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Medical marijuana debate to return in South Dakota