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South Dakota legislators advance new medical cannabis conditions, revision process

A proposal adding qualifying conditions covered by medical cannabis, which emerged from the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee last summer, has passed its first committee hurdle.

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Sen. Erin Tobin of Winner, who chaired the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee this past summer, spoke in favor of Senate Bill 1, which adds eight qualifying conditions for medical cannabis use.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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PIERRE, S.D. — Discretion for adding new qualifying conditions for medical cannabis use could soon fall under the purview of the state legislature rather than the Department of Health, as Senate Bill 1 made it out of the Senate Health and Human Services committee by a vote of 6-1 on the morning of Jan. 18.

While the bill takes the petition process out of the hands of individual South Dakotans as it existed since the medical marijuana program began, it does act as a sort of compromise, immediately adding several of the most-requested debilitating conditions to the covered list, including glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy.

However, Sen. Erin Tobin, the prime sponsor of the bill and the chair of the Medical Marijuana Oversight Council this past year — where the bill recommendation passed unanimously — explained that the complex process that faced petitioners attempting to add a condition made it unfeasible to make the law as dynamic as it had been intended.

“The way we had it before is basically people could petition to be added, and several requirements fell under that including hearings, letters of support and research,” Tobin said during testimony. “The thing that happened is that there wasn’t any condition that actually went through the whole process. And we felt that went against what the voters wanted.”

The eight new conditions, Tobin explained, stemmed from town halls held by the Department of Health and research into conditions allowed in other states. Were the bill to pass, the responsibility to add conditions would fall either on the legislature during session or the Medical Marijuana Oversight Council.

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“At least through the legislature, we can have those people who are prescribing come and give proponent and opponent testimony,” Tobin said about the merits of leaving this to the legislature.

Dr. Bonnie Omdahl, an outspoken opponent of the failed recreational marijuana ballot measure last year, explained her concern with the legislature framing as medicine a compound she called unsafe, with side effects like psychosis and an increased rate of heart attack.

“For every other drug that we call medicine, there are extensive testings to ensure I guarantee that the conditions for which the medicine is approved is effective and as safe as can be. There is an extensive process usually, for medicines to be approved by the FDA. Frequently it takes years,” she said. “Cannabis, unlike any other medicine, has been placed outside this normal, rigorous test of efficiency and safety.”

Another opponent, Justin Schweitzer, explained that cannabis is not a superior option for controlling glaucoma, as treating the condition requires 24-hour control and, in the case of cannabis, requires a high dosage several times per day.

However, not much really changes from adding these eight conditions, explained Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist for the cannabis industry in support of the bill.

Other than post-traumatic stress disorder, which Murphy supported adding to the list, the other seven likely would have been covered by the catch-all portion of the law before: any medical condition involving symptoms like “wasting syndrome; severe, debilitating pain; severe nausea; seizures; or severe and persistent muscle spasms.”

“All of this creates a fence around the doctor and the patients,” Murphy explained about his understanding of the purpose of the bill, saying it is up to the treating physician to consider cannabis in the context of the health of the patient and the other medication being used.

During her rebuttal to the opposition’s testimony calling medical cannabis unsafe and ineffective, Tobin explained she felt the legislature had a duty to uphold the people’s will, acknowledging the final decision still rests with the doctor.

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“The people decided they wanted this substance through the ballot measure, and under God, the people rule, especially in this state,” Tobin said.

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
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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: HEALTHMARIJUANA
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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