PIERRE, S.D. — State officials sought to clarify the public's mounting questions about South Dakota's medical marijuana program as the government races to write regulations and meet deadlines beginning on July 1.

In a meeting on Wednesday, June 2, with the Legislature's executive board, directors and attorneys from the health and revenue departments poured cool water on constituents' hopes that medical marijuana will available carte blanche when it becomes legal next month.

"Any purchase outside the regulated marijuana establishments is illegal," said Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, repeating her assurance from a week ago before a legislative summer study committee that South Dakota-grown medical marijuana won't be legal to purchase until early summer of 2022.

Malsam-Rysdon, who announced the hiring of two full-time positions to helm the marijuana program, said she needed to "level-set" on public expectations. She also noted that cardholders — i.e. those legally able to obtain medical marijuana following certification from a physician and clearance from the health department — will be able to purchase marijuana only at dispensaries.

"It [marijuana] will not be in pharmacies," Malsam-Rysdon said.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Michael Houdyshell, chief attorney from the Revenue Department, also sought to underscore realities for the new program. He said medical marijuana is subject to sales tax, as it's not categorized as a medicine, but as a therapeutic or palliative treatment under the new state law.

"The Department of Revenue will be working with these establishments, as well, to make sure they're in compliance with the state tax laws," Houdyshell said.

South Dakota will be following in the wake of neighboring states, such as Minnesota and North Dakota, when the law takes effect on July 1.

Voters overwhelmingly passed Initiated Measure 26, to legalize medical marijuana, in elections last November. After attempting to scuttle the start date of the program by a year (and then by six months), the state Legislature failed to find a compromise with Gov. Kristi Noem, thereby setting up this months-shorter race to implement the law.

Under the law's provisions, cards are to be issued to eligible citizens who have shown evidence of a "debilitating medical condition" to a physician no later than mid-November.

But on Wednesday, lawmakers appeared wary of the state officials' presentation of the program, its timeline and other ambiguities.

"In the event that someone were to smoke their entire stash and go back tomorrow [to a dispensary], what's that look like [for regulation]?" asked House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Glenham Republican.

An attorney for the Department of Health, Justin Williams, noted the state is investigating a statewide "tracking system" to prevent cardholders from procuring more medical marijuana than allowable "within a certain time period."

When Sen. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, asked if the state's tribal nations on sovereign lands could stand up marijuana programs apart from state regulation in Pierre, Malsam-Rysdon reiterated that no dispensaries will be recognized by the state prior to rules being set.

Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, a Mission Democrat, said that tribes are answerable not to state law enforcement, but federal partners.

"We have no taxing authority [on tribal lands]," said Heinert. "If tribes go down this road, whether we have a state licensed program or not, there is nothing precluding them."

Subcommittee meetings for the marijuana summer study meet again on June 21 and 22 in Pierre.