South Dakotan completes cross-state tour for medical marijuana

June 21, 2005

Dirk Lammers, Aberdeen News (SD)

A Hermosa man has completed a cross-state bicycle tour aimed at gathering signatures to put a medical marijuana measure on the 2006 ballot.

Longtime activist Bob Newland pedaled into Sioux Falls Tuesday night after logging 440 miles and gathering 250 signatures along the Matthew Ducheneaux Trail to Safe Access Bicycle Tour Across South Dakota.

The petitions need about 17,000 signatures by May 2006 to get on the 2006 ballot. Newland said his target is 20,000 to provide a cushion for invalid signatures.

'We have a year,' he said in an interview. 'My plan is to find 100 people who will each get 200 signatures.'

The day after Newland's June 5 departure from Rapid City, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that people who smoke marijuana for medical reasons can be prosecuted for violating federal drug laws.

Newland said many South Dakotans along the route already knew about his cause, thanks to news coverage and the high court's decision.

'Actually, I picked up $200 in contributions the first three days, and people were stopping me to sign the petition and people were offering me weed,' Newland said.

Newland named his trek after Ducheneaux, a quadriplegic from Eagle Butte who used marijuana to ease chronic pain from muscle spasms and died May 23.

In 2000, Sioux Falls police arrested Ducheneaux for marijuana possession. A magistrate judge had agreed to let him argue that he needed the substance for medical reasons, but a circuit judge overruled that decision. The state Supreme Court unanimously upheld his conviction in 2003.

Newland said the journey was designed to raise awareness for the issue and get South Dakotans talking about it.

On a typical day, Newland rode about 25 miles before stopping in a town.

After six hours fighting headwinds and dragging 120 pounds of luggage, his next stop was typically a tavern.

'Going to a tavern to get signatures on the medical marijuana petition is like shooting fish in a barrel,' said Newland, noting he'd often get 10 or 20 patrons to sign.

Newland said he'll continue gathering signatures at the upcoming Black Hills Heritage Festival in Rapid City. He also plans to lobby at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, although most visitors will be out-of-staters.

'It's not the best place to circulate a South Dakota petition, although with this one I believe I'll get lots of out-of-state money donated to this thing. The rally is invariably hemp and cannabis friendly.'

A South Dakota medical marijuana bill was killed 11-1 in a House committee in January. Assistant State Attorney General Charlie McGuigan testified that his office opposes any attempt to legalize marijuana in any form. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in South Dakota and leads to other illegal drug use, he said.

But Newland, after meeting with scores of people along his bicycle route, said he's confident a state measure will pass if it gets on the ballot.

'Getting it on the ballot is a given, provided we do the detail work, which is actually get the signatures,' he said.



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