Weed Watch: South Dakota Medi-Pot Supporters Push Forward

After six years of failed attempts to convince state's lawmakers to pass a law to protect medical marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution, medi-pot supporters take their proposition to the public

After six years of failed attempts to convince South Dakota state lawmakers to enact a law to protect medical-marijuana patients from arrest and prosecution, medi-pot supporters have finally tossed aside the statehouse and are taking the proposition straight to the people. Their proposal would create a statewide registry of patients, authorize the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants per patient, legalize possession of up to an ounce of useable pot, and create a "medical necessity" defense against prosecution. After a months-long petition drive, South Dakotans for Safe Access turned in more than the 16,000 valid signatures of registered voters needed to secure a place on the state's Nov. 7 general election ballot.

And with that, the uphill battle for ballot access should have been over. Instead, advocates are now facing a legal battle with state Attorney General Larry Long and Secretary of State Chris Nelson, arguing that the ballot language describing the pot proposition is discriminatory and contains demonstrably false information seemingly crafted to thwart its passage. In addition to the basic explanatory language, Nelson's office has included three additional notes: two are clearly over the top – that the law would authorize "any" adult "or child" to use medi-pot, and that pot would still remain illegal and patients still subject to arrest by federal narcos – and the third, that physicians who write prescriptions for medi-pot patients "may be subject to losing their federal license to dispense prescription drugs," is a flat-out lie. Indeed, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's attempt to punish docs for discussing pot with patients was shot down by the federal courts as a violation of free speech.

Valerie Hannah, a medi-mari patient and 10-year U.S. Army veteran who resigned her post as a medic because of poor health related to exposure to serin nerve gas while serving in Iraq, has filed suit against Long and Nelson to block the proposed language from appearing on the ballot, charging that including both blatantly false and clearly misleading information regarding a ballot proposition is a violation of state law, punishable by up to 30 days in the county pokey and/or up to a $200 fine. Nelson should have narrowed the language to explain the ballot and its effect on state law only, Hannah's attorney Ron Volesky told the Associated Press last week. The editorial asides, he said, are "beyond the scope of his authority." Meanwhile, Hannah's lawsuit has, reportedly, teed Nelson, who told the AP that it's interfering with his ability to get the ballots printed and sent out to county election officials. Yet amazingly, Nelson also publicly blames Hannah for not having filed suit sooner – the language at issue, he said, has been set for several weeks: "The timing of these lawsuits is just absolutely irresponsible," he said. Perhaps he should have thought about that before putting his ballot-writing pen to paper.


In other medi-pot news, members of the nation's largest union of public employees, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, adopted a resolution Aug. 8 at their national convention supporting the use of medi-pot by seriously ill and dying patients. Medi-mari has been shown to be effective treating a variety of illnesses, including cancer and AIDS, the endorsement notes, so AFSCME pledges to "endorse and support legalization of medical marijuana for appropriate medically indicated ailments." AFSCME has 1.4 million member-workers representing both private and public sector employment, including government workers, nurses, and correctional officers.

And in Denver, supporters of a measure that would equalize the criminal penalties associated with marijuana and alcohol use are claiming a victory, announcing Aug. 16 that their proposition has made it on to the November general ballot. Advocacy group Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation is spearheading the Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative, which would remove all criminal penalties for the private use and possession of up to an ounce of pot by adults. SAFER has already scored a string of successful equalization efforts in Denver and at several large state universities, including UT.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

medical marijuana, medi-pot, medi-mari, South Dakota, AFSCME, Alcohol-Marijuana Equalization Initiative

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