PIERRE, S.D. — After the dust clears from the recently gaveled-out South Dakota legislative session, one glaring target remains standing: the state leadership's attempts to delay the medical marijuana program.
Just two weeks ago, Gov. Kristi Noem dispatched cabinet subordinates and her deputy counsel to assuage a Senate committee to pump the brakes on Initiated Measure 26, approved by 70% of the state's voters in November that will legalize cannabis for medical use.
"You can't put the genie back in the bottle," said Department of Public Safety Secretary Craig Price, urging passage of House Bill 1100, which would've pressed pause for six months as bureaucrats figured out how to tax and test medical marijuana.
"It can't just be pulled together in a few months," said Katie Hruska, an attorney from the governor's office, saying the state needed to hire inspectors and educate staff on this "brand new, entire industry."
Education secretary Tiffany Sanderson had a concrete concern: "Think about bus drivers," said Sanderson, suggesting new employee rules need to be written for when qualified cardholders can take their marijuana medicine. "Think about teachers in classrooms."
But when HB 1100 imploded less than 48 hours from the session's conclusion, amid bickering between the Senate and House on whether to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the reality rife with potential disasters is now staring South Dakota in the face.
Or, maybe not.
"You still cannot be a bus driver and drive children around while you're intoxicated," said Melissa Mentele, executive director of New Approach South Dakota, in an interview with Forum News Service on Monday, March 15. "What do you do about a bus driver? You have a good policy in place before this goes into effect and you stick to the policy."
The measure passed by voters contained 90-plus sections, including definitions for which ailments qualify as a "debilitating medical condition" qualifying someone to receive a state-issued card to use marijuana and specifying parameters of a "cultivation facility."
But Noem and her allies have suggested the measure is rife with loopholes and ambiguities, including that a patient with just a "prescription from a doctor" could grow "five hundred to one thousands plants."
Regardless of how many questions hover, the state now doesn't have long to figure them out.
Under IM 26's timetable, July 1 is when the program — technically — becomes law, meaning likely patients will inherit affirmative defenses should they be charged with a crime for possessing or cultivating a small amount of marijuana. Mentele said she doesn't expect people to hold cards, to be issued by the Department of Health, until October, with sales not going until early next year.
Not only regulators, but businesses looking to enter the legal pot trade were also hoping lawmakers used the last 10 weeks to iron out wrinkles in IM26's language. Could cities restrict the sale in town? Will bankers back dispensaries with credit to pay employees?
"I'm not pleased about the waste of time legislature took to get to this point," said Leonard Vandermate, owner of The Hemporium Boutique and Dispensary in Rapid City, S.D., on Monday. "They should've been developed rules, regs, and licensing all this stuff instead of fartin' around listening to the governor about conspiracies of marijuana."
A spokesperson for SDDOH said via email, "We are working through the many components needed to administer a responsible medical marijuana program in South Dakota."
Nevertheless, there is still potential that South Dakota could take another whack at IM 26 — but that would require a special session. According to the state's constitution, the governor or a sizable majority of the legislature could call one. But there may not be the appetite.
And that might be okay with the voters.
Testifying earlier this month, Tim Hughes, a veteran from Summerset, S.D., told lawmakers exactly how he felt about their attempts to delay IM 26.
"I voted for this. I took my time out of my dad, and voted because I knew it'd help me in the long run get off all the opioids and prescription pills the VA does hand out to me," said Hughes. "And let me tell you right now, it (HB 1100) is the most disheartening thing that I have ever seen."