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South Dakota's medical marijuana committee reviews progress in first meeting

The meeting, which convened just over a year after the beginning of the state's Medical Cannabis Program, covered budget issues, accreditation of dispensaries and the availability of physicians to prospective cardholders.

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Committee Chair Sen. Erin Tobin, R-Winner, and Vice Chair Rep. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, engage in questioning during the public comment section of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee at the state Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota.
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PIERRE, S.D. — July 14 marked the first meeting of South Dakota's new Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee, the body tasked with parsing out the details associated with Initiated Measure 26, the successful 2020 ballot measure legalizing marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions.”

There are no medical dispensaries operating legally in the state, with the notable exception of outlets on reservations, many of which accept state-issued medical marijuana cards. Home cultivation of cannabis plants, however, is legal for cardholders everywhere in the state.

“The meeting is definitely introductory, determining exactly what the duties and responsibilities of the committee are,” Pierre Police Department Administrative Capt. Bryan Walz, who serves as a law enforcement representative on the committee, told Forum News Service in a phone conversation before the meeting Thursday. “For me, I hope it's very educational.”

Opening the meeting was a presentation from the Department of Health led by Geno Adams, who acts as administrator for the Medical Cannabis Program. Though the program has made substantial progress in accreditation software for physicians, dispensaries and patients, as well as opening and readying testing labs prior to a planned launch of medical dispensary sales in late summer or early fall, Adams acknowledged that the creation of the state cannabis programs is still a work in progress.

"We're building the airplane while we're flying the airplane. So we're working on these processes constantly,” Adams said. "It’s pretty amazing to me how far we’ve come. We’ve learned a lot in the last year, and it’s been really rewarding to work with industry and local jurisdictions to get this program up and running.”

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Although the state cannabis program was created with the idea of being self-sustaining in cost, budget numbers presented by the Department of Health showed an operating loss of around $170,00 since the program began a little over a year ago. While some expenditures associated with the beginning of the program may wane as the program keeps running, Adams noted that revenues could taper off as well, largely depending on the rate of renewal among dispensaries and patients. Adams said the department is working on projections for the 2024 fiscal year.

During the public comment period, presenters with backgrounds in cannabis lobbying, consulting and growing raised a few different concerns. Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist representing clients in the medical cannabis industry, raised concerns about how supply chain issues in the construction industry could lead to dispensary owners losing the chance at operating their businesses.

Under South Dakota law, dispensaries “must become operational within one year” of the date they are awarded a certificate to operate; otherwise, “the certificate is deemed void and will be awarded to the next applicant on the waiting list.” Murphy urged the committee to extend that limit.

“Our members have been experiencing delays in securing equipment and services. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting a contractor over to do that concrete or asphalt work,” Murphy said. “They are concerned that, for reasons outside of their control, they're not going to be able to meet that one year timeline.”

Emmett Reistroffer, who owns Genesis Farms, a vertically integrated cannabis company, offered his support for a pause on new licenses for dispensaries, fearing that a purely free-market approach to cannabis in the state could overwhelm the oversight abilities of the Department of Health as well as local authorities.

Further discussion surrounded the difficulty of some patients in finding a licensed physician in order to begin the process of acquiring a medical cannabis card. Committee member and cannabis advocate Melissa Mentele pointed out that the list of licensed providers is private on the Medical Cannabis Program’s website , meaning someone whose primary physician has not gone through the approval process may have difficulty obtaining a medical card.

“It has created an interesting dynamic, because a lot of us have primary care providers, but they’re hesitant to be the one with their name on [the application],” Mentele said.

One possible solution brought up during discussion was allowing physicians who opt in to have their information displayed publicly on the program’s website.

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Other areas touched on by the committee in response to the public comment include removing the sales tax from medical cannabis to bring the product in line with other pharmaceuticals in the state and lowering the requirement for security camera storage from the current requirement of 90 days.

The committee voted unanimously to send a slate of recommended rule changes drawn from the discussion to the Department of Health for consideration.

Sen. Erin Tobin, R-Winner, who chairs the committee, said the formal vote on legislative recommendations would occur at the committee’s next meeting. The date for that meeting has not been set, although Tobin said the next meeting would take place after patients in the state have begun receiving cannabis products from licensed dispensaries, allowing the committee to hear feedback on that process.

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
On Nov. 8, South Dakotans rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized marijuana in the state among anyone 21 years and over. Now, the more than 100 businesses clamoring for a piece of this industry will have to attempt to sustain themselves on a few thousand medical patients.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: MARIJUANA
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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