Compare SD Medical Pot Measure To Montana's

October 30, 2006

, Keloland TV

In one week, South Dakotans will decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical uses. And if history is any indication, the measure could very well pass. Nationally, medical marijuana has never been voted-down as a ballot measure. Voters supported it in the eight states: California, Montana, Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, Washington, Nevada.

And legislators made it legal in three states: Vermont, Hawaii, Rhode Island.

And one of the laws is nearly identical to the one on the South Dakota ballot. In Montana, 62 percent of voters supported a law to legalize medical marijuana in 2004. 

Since South Dakota law enforcement has some serious concerns about what would happen if the same measure passes here, we did some checking to find out what kind of impact it's had in Montana. 

South Dakota Law enforcement leaders believe the medical marijuana measure would make it too easy for anyone to get their hands on pot. 

"It is written in the interest of those truly suffering but also to allow open access to anyone who says they suffer from chronic pain," says Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead.
 
But in Montana, where the same law with the same wording has already been in effect for 2 years, only 260 people are registered to use it. And Roy Kemp, the man in charge of the registry, says people without serious illness don't abuse the law because a doctor has to sign off on their medical records. 

"Generally speaking, that does not occur. So no, it hasn't been a problem," says Kemp, the licensing bureau chief for Montana's Department of Public Health and Human Services.

South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long sees the wording differently. He thinks it's vague enough that people with minor injuries could just send in medical records and get the immunity to use marijuana. 

Kemp says it's as simple as making sure the doctor recommends the pot. "If there is no statement such as that in the medical record, then I cannot consider the medical record as a basis for qualifying a patient," Kemp says. "I don't think the landscape has changed because of this act."

Milstead doesn't think it's worth the risk. 

"Let the proponents introduce a law that is truly medical marijuana that uses a prescription from a physician," Milstead says.

It's important to note this bill does not create "prescriptions" for marijuana, because it is against federal law to prescribe marijuana. But it makes it legal for people with a doctor's recommendation to have it. They have to grow themselves or find their own way to get it and that's the biggest problem they're having in Montana.

One Case of Abuse

In the last two years, only one man has broken the law then used medical marijuana as his defense.  But the jury didn't buy it.

58-year-old Gary Ashley was convicted last month of having drugs and planning to dealing them.

Police arrested Ashley in Butte, Montana, last Dember after finding more than four pounds of marijuana in his house. Ashley was registered in California to use medical marijuana, and the Montana law honors other states' registration cards. 

But the Montana law (like the proposed South Dakota law) only allows one ounce or six plants of the drug. So the jury decided Ashley violated the law by having too much pot.

Ashley faces up to 20 years in prison.

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