South Dakota may soon join the growing number of states who have legalized cannabis products for medicinal use. Melissa Mentele, the founder of an organization that advocates for legalization of medical marijuana in the state, has authored an initiative that has been filed with the Secretary of State’s Office. If all goes well, it could mean that legalization would be on the November 2016 ballot.
If voters choose to pass the law, the state would implement a program allowing patients to get a registration card from the health department detailing their medical need. Registered patients would be permitted to possess up to three ounces of the medicine at a time. Officials at the health department would be responsible for determining further regulations post voter approval.
One South Dakota mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, has high hopes for the legislation and is doing all she can to fight for the measure. Her adult son was involved in a car accident several years ago that caused him severe head trauma. He later began experiencing terrible seizures. After trying many prescriptions that did not help, she decided to turn to cannabis, despite the risk of facing jail time if she were to get caught. In an interview with KSFY, she stated:
“I felt we didn’t have anything to lose at this point.”
She is currently getting most of the cannabis through friends who travel frequently to Colorado. Sometimes, however, she has to purchase it on the black market in South Dakota in order to keep her son’s seizures at bay, a dilemma she wishes she did not have to face. She explained:
“I wish I wouldn’t have to go that way. If the government controlled it through issuing medical licenses, it would be a lot safe for everyone involved.”
This mother also claims that it would be a lot cheaper, not only for them, but also for taxpayers. Her son has now been free from seizures for 21 months thanks to the cannabis. In the past, however, after having a seizure, the medical costs reached upward of $30,000 in ICU stays and ambulance rides. Her son also spoke out about the importance of legalization:
“I was jerking all over, my whole body was swinging, my arms and I was kicking my legs uncontrollably…that’s why I’m using this medical marijuana, not to abuse it, but to help myself medically.”
In order to reach the November 2016 ballot, sponsors need to show that they have garnered the support of South Dakota residents. They have 180 days to get 13,871 signatures on the petition. Legalization of cannabis for medicinal use has been on the ballot before; in 2006 it nearly passed after receiving 48% support. In 2010, only 37% voted to pass the law due to strong campaigning by anti-marijuana advocates from the state medical association and the attorney general’s office. Despite these failed attempts, Mentele feels confident that the measure will receive strong support from voters this time around. She said:
“Personally I think it’s a slam dunk. I think there is so much science out there that people can’t dispute it.”
As the stigma surrounding cannabis use changes across the country, so do the minds of even those who have opposed legalization in the past. Attorney General Marty Jackley opposed legalization in years past but has recently stated he is hopeful that marijuana can eventually become a regulated and approved medical cure for those who so desperately need it.