Lawsuit pending for marijuana measure
August 01, 2006
Joe Kafka, Rapid City Journal (SD)
PIERRE - A woman who said she smokes marijuana to ease symptoms of her exposure to nerve gas while serving as a U.S. Army medic in Iraq said Tuesday she will sue the state attorney general because of his warning on a ballot measure seeking to legalize medicinal marijuana use in South Dakota.
The measure was approved for the Nov. 7 ballot after supporters gathered more than the necessary 16,728 valid signatures.
Under the proposal, marijuana could be used for medical purposes if patients and their doctors agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. Supporters contend that marijuana helps those with diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and people suffering from chronic pain, nausea or seizures.
But Attorney General Larry Long has written a ballot explanation that says even if the measure is passed, those who possess, use or distribute marijuana for medical reasons can still be prosecuted by federal authorities. The warning adds that doctors may be subject to losing their federal licenses to prescribe legal drugs if they certify that people with debilitating health problems would benefit from marijuana use.
"I struggle with what will actually be accomplished," Long told The Associated Press. "Even if you vote in favor of the measure, it's still going to be a crime under federal law to possess or use marijuana."
Valerie Hannah of Deerfield said exposure to the nerve gas sarin forced her to retire from the military after 10 years. She will file a lawsuit soon seeking to toss out Long's explanation of the ballot measure because it would hamper chances of passage.
Hannah said people with health problems who would be helped by smoking marijuana should not be forced to get it illegally.
"I get it as best I can, and that's one of the things I want to prevent," she said. "I want us to have a safe way to access this so people aren't having to go to criminal elements to get a medicine."
California voters in 1996 made it the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana. Voters in 10 other states have since enacted laws that allow dispensing pot to treat specific medical problems, although the federal government continues to outlaw marijuana.
Montana voters legalized medical marijuana in 2004, and Hannah said the South Dakota ballot proposal is patterned after that law.
Because federal law bans marijuana, none of the states where medical use is allowed have found a way for people to legally, conveniently and safely acquire the drug.