South Dakota’s Medical Cannabis Program Shatters Projections

South Dakota has issued double the number of medical cannabis cards than it projected, the state official overseeing the program told legislators on Monday.

The South Dakota Department of Health has issued roughly 11,500 cards since the medical marijuana program launched in 2021––shattering the department’s projections of 6,000 cards issued by 2024. 

“We’ve doubled the amount that we were projecting to see in three years within two years,” said Jennifer Seale, the administrator of South Dakota’s medical cannabis program, as quoted by the local news outlet South Dakota Searchlight.

Seale made the comments in testimony on Monday before the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee in the state legislature. 

Members of the committee expressed concern at the ease with which patients have gained access to medical marijuana cards. 

One member of the committee, Republican state House Rep. Fred Deutsch, has been outspoken in his opposition to recreational marijuana legalization, while also criticizing what he believes is a lack of safeguards in the state’s medical cannabis program. 

“Doctors can make a hell of a lot of money just opening up their ‘Doc in a Box Shop,’ and that concerns me. That should concern everybody. I mean, come on. If we’re talking about medical marijuana, we should allow people that really need it to have access to it, and we should prevent people that don’t need it from getting access to it as well,” Deutsch said in June.

Earlier this year, Deutsch obtained a medical cannabis card himself to demonstrate the ease of access.

“I support easy access to medical marijuana when doctors and patients follow the law. I now have a medical card because my doctor didn’t follow the law,” Deutsch said on Twitter in June.

At Monday’s hearing, Deutsch recounted the visit to the clinic that resulted in the medical cannabis prescription. Local TV station KELO provided details on Deutsch’s comments:

“[Deutsch] said he could clearly hear the conversations between the nurse practitioner and the people seeking cards. ‘There was no privacy whatsoever. HIPAA was out the door.’ According to Deutsch, the nurse practitioner looked at his medical records, noted that he had been in a traffic accident, asked whether he still felt pain, and certified him for a patient card for a year. Deutsch said he then asked her whether using marijuana could conflict with any of his current medicines, but she said he needed to talk to his primary doctor. She told him he needed to ask other questions of the shops that sell marijuana. After seven or eight minutes, the meeting was done: ‘I left feeling, ‘A hundred seventy bucks – there was no examination.’’”

In the state’s legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers considered a pair of proposals that would have imposed restrictions on so-called “pop-up” medical marijuana clinics, where patients can obtain a card with ease.

The two bills would have “made myriad changes to cannabis law in the state: banning certain advertisements for prescription services; requiring certain actions by doctors and other providers to establish a ‘bona fide’ relationship and allowing prescription to occur only in certain facilities, most of them related to medical care in some manner,” the Forum News Service reported at the time.

But both pieces of legislature were soundly rejected by the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

In January, South Dakota lawmakers approved a bill to widen the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment in the state. The legislation also shifted the authority to set those qualifying conditions from the South Dakota Department of Health to the state legislature.

Voters in South Dakota approved a measure at the ballot to legalize medical cannabis for eligible patients in 2020.

While the law officially took effect in 2021, the first state-licensed dispensaries opened for business last year

The state’s 2020 ballot also included a proposed constitutional amendment that would have legalized recreational cannabis in the state.

Although a majority of voters approved the amendment, it was later overturned by the South Dakota Supreme Court––a ruling that delighted the state’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who spearheaded the lawsuit to get the law struck down.

But after the court’s ruling in 2021, Noem made a point to draw a distinction between the overturned recreational pot measure and the medical cannabis program.

“South Dakota is a place where the rule of law and our Constitution matter, and that’s what today’s decision is about,” Noem said at the time. “We do things right—and how we do things matters just as much as what we are doing. We are still governed by the rule of law. This decision does not affect my Administration’s implementation of the medical cannabis program voters approved in 2020. That program was launched earlier this month, and the first cards have already gone out to eligible South Dakotans.”

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