Medical pot advocates ask lawmakers for ‘compromise’

February 22, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Supporters of a successful ballot measure to make medical marijuana legal in South Dakota urged state lawmakers on Monday to allow users to avoid criminal charges during any delay in implementing the program.

Voters passed a law in November legalizing marijuana for medical use in the state starting in July. But Gov. Kristi Noem and Republican legislative leaders are pushing to delay the law for a year, arguing they need the time to study the issue and set up a comprehensive medical pot program.

The Republican governor’s proposal to delay was another setback for pro-pot groups after they saw a voter-passed constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana struck down by a circuit court judge as unconstitutional.

But the groups that spearheaded the ballot initiatives have sought to cajole lawmakers to move on medical marijuana by pointing out that voters approved it by nearly 70%. Some Republican lawmakers have acknowledged they are under pressure from their constituents.

“For them to come in the last three weeks of session and to overturn the will of voters is very frustrating,” said Melissa Mentele, who organized the ballot initiative to legalize medical pot.

In a proposal Mentele cast as a “compromise,” the group called for lawmakers to allow people who are charged with marijuana possession beginning July 1 to avoid convictions by presenting a statement from a medical practitioner showing they have a “debilitating medical condition” and could benefit from medical pot. They also pushed lawmakers to move up the proposed deadline to implement the program to the end of January 2022.

Noem’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposal.

Meanwhile, several marijuana bills making their way through the Legislature remained in flux. The House is set to debate Noem’s proposal to delay medical marijuana implementation this week. The Senate is considering a proposal that would set up parameters for recreational pot under certain conditions: If the state Supreme Court reverses the decision to strike down legalized marijuana, if the federal government decriminalizes marijuana or if voters were to pass recreational marijuana once again.

“It is important that we don’t have an unregulated industry here in South Dakota,” said Republican Sen. Brock Greenfield, who is pushing the proposal to create a tentative recreational pot program.