Cities, counties left scrambling on medical marijuana

OPINION — Some South Dakotas appreciate that the state is taking a thorough and comprehensive approach to developing rules and regulations concerning medical marijuana which was legalized by the state’s voters last November.

But that approach has left city and county officials statewide scrambling to protect themselves legally concerning medical marijuana. There has been little to no guidance on the matter from the state concerning how local government entities should proceed.

The South Dakota Municipal League did step up earlier this month posting a list of marijuana legalization resources on its website. They even provided a draft ordinance and an attorney’s interpretation of the medical marijuana law to assist cities and even counties.

In part, the ordinance read: “WHEREAS, the Municipality finds that a temporary ordinance is reasonable to preserve the status quo and prevent significant investment pending the outcome of the above study and any proposed regulations emanating therefrom;”

Meanwhile, a marijuana summer study group of the legislature met this week to hear testimony from a variety of sources for and against both medical and recreational marijuana.

One of those testifying Thursday was Dr. Benjamin Aaker of Yankton,  president of the South Dakota State Medical Association.

Testifying remotely, Aaker said his association is against medical marijuana.

“I’m not here today to turn the clock back. I’m here to guide bringing forth the rules,” he said.

He also said there needs to be more research done on medical marijuana.

“There are some chemicals that are in that marijuana plant that are and can be beneficial to the health of patients who are suffering from afflictions, but we also believe there are a number of chemicals in there that are harmful to patients as well,” he said.

This all began when South Dakota voters approved both medical and recreational marijuana in the general election in November.

Currently, recreational marijuana is tied up in the courts and medical marijuana is set to become legal in a little over a month.

So why, when voters approved medical marijuana by 70%, didn’t the South Dakota Department of Health start working on regulations then? Why did the state wait for the governor’s office/legislature squabbling to go nowhere before they faced up to the fact that they would need rules and regulations sooner rather than later?

There are few answers to those questions, but at least the state is now focused on studying the issue.

Sen. Bryan Breitling, R-Miller, chair of the marijuana summer study, said Thursday the mission of the group is to better educate their peers and respective houses and hopefully leave policy that will lead to marijuana legislation for the success of South Dakota within this new industry within the state.

We appreciate that sentiment, but believe more should have been done to prepare cities and counties to deal with the consequences of a statewide.

Developing rules and regulations for medical marijuana is like putting together a 1,000-piece puzzle, said Rep. Kirk Chaffee, R-Whitewood.

“You dump them out on the table and piece them together for a program you believe is going to be best for the state and its residents,” Chaffee said.


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(1) comment


Who is the editorial board? The same way opinion columns and letters to the editor require a name/author, these should too. Has anyone from the paper interviewed someone at the state health department about the lag? I am guessing something else in 2020 was their priority so it seems a bit unfair to blame them when they didn't have enough staff to deal with COVID in a way the public expects.

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