S.D. medical marijuana proposal forming

March 20, 2005

Terry Wooster, Argus Leader

PIERRE - A Hermosa man who supported an unsuccessful attempt to legalize industrial hemp in 2002 said last week he is preparing a ballot initiative to allow medical marijuana in South Dakota. Robert Newland, who also ran for attorney general as a Libertarian candidate in 2002, said Montana voters in November legalized marijuana for medical uses.

'When I saw that Montana did it, I decided to start a campaign in South Dakota,' Newland said. 'There is no question we can get the signatures in fairly short order. The fact is, medical use has never failed on an initiative.'

A bill to legalize medical marijuana died 11-1 in a House committee during the 2005 Legislature.

Newland can expect strong opposition from Attorney General Larry Long's office if his proposal reaches the ballot. A spokesman for Long said the office's position is contained in statements made at the House hearing by Charles McGuigan, an assistant attorney general.

'We are in opposition to any plan to legalize marijuana in any form, whether it is medical marijuana or industrial hemp or any other concoction that would give credence to this substance,'' McGuigan said then. 'Marijuana is not scheduled as a controlled substance, but marijuana use and possession is illegal and is a crime.''

Newland has until May 2006 to file petitions. He'll need 16,728 valid signatures. He said he'd like to get started this spring by filing the formal language of the proposed law, a first step in the process. That would give petition carriers the opportunity to work fairs and other summer events where large numbers of potential signers are concentrated in small areas.

Ten states have some form of medical marijuana laws now. California's law is being challenged in a U.S. Supreme Court case. Other states with such laws are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Arizona also has a law permitting marijuana prescriptions but no active program.

South Dakota's Criminal Code Revision Commission considered, but rejected, a medical marijuana proposal last summer.

In November 2003, the state Supreme Court upheld the marijuana conviction of an Eagle Butte man who said he needed the drug to ease chronic muscle spasms he had suffered since needing to use a wheelchair after a car wreck.

Rep. Gerald Lange, D-Madison, sponsored the failed medical marijuana bill last session. The patient's physician would have been required to say that the beneficial impact of marijuana use for a patient would outweigh risks.

'There's a nausea effect in a lot of medicine, where marijuana doesn't cause this kind of side effect,'' Lange said.

McGuigan said the attorney general's office thought that passing such a law 'would reduce the perception of the risk for drug use.''

He also said the active ingredient in marijuana is available in pill form, with a prescription.

Newland said that pill works for some people. But in cases of severe nausea that sometimes accompany chemotherapy and other treatments, 'the patient just can't keep it down.''

So far, the only ballot issue qualified for the November 2006 general election is a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman. That proposal passed the 2005 Legislature.

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