PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers in South Dakota who were largely opposed to legalizing marijuana worked to prepare recommendations that might crimp and contort the state's legal medical marijuana program on Wednesday, Sept. 1, in a day-long pair of meetings.
At one point, as emotions ran high during an afternoon meeting, GOP Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, of Spearfish, invoked inflammatory language to compare the out-of-state interests that helped fundraise for both medical and adult-use marijuana ballot measures that passed with majority support of South Dakota voters last fall.
"It sounds like we kinda got raped on the deal," said Fitzgerald, in response to Sen. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion, a retired judge who'd noted legal precedents that prevent the state from banning out-of-state companies from opening dispensaries.
By and large, entrenched interests in the state, including the South Dakota Municipal League, had a veritable field day on Wednesday, as subcommittees of a larger summer study commission on marijuana prepared recommendations for follow-up legislation on rules from everything for dispensaries to growers to users expected to emerge later this fall.
"We're going to be fairly pleased," said Yvonne Taylor, SDML executive director, adding her group representing city governments would likely support "90% of what you guys are working on."
Mostly, lawmakers on Wednesday brought recommendations to winnow the law's eligibility or access to marijuana on the basis of public safety.
The day started with the medical use subcommittee voting on a narrow 6-4 margin to recommend pulling language from the law allowing so-called "home-grow" of a maximum of three plants. Instead, they say the law should require home-growers cultivate a "minimum" of three plants with a maximum of six. Some argued doing away with the provision altogether.
"I think we should have potential [to] eliminate home-grown [rules], due to its relationship to the black market and crime," argued Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence.
Later in the morning, the committee openly discussed removing a presumptive defense from the law, with Rep. Caleb Finck, R-Tripp, saying such a policy wouldn't be applicable for other types of crime and "should go."
"It's the shoulda-woulda-coulda [defense]," agreed Fitzgerald.
The group's recommendations are just that, at this point. Moreover, it's not clear the summer study commission is in their legal authority to override portions of the law. For example, Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, pointed out that if the committee would pass rules allowing municipalities to ban dispensaries, then the statute itself specifies that home-grow be allowed.
Until this week, the lead proponents of the medical marijuana and adult use law — which has thus far been held up by a circuit court injunction — have largely stayed silent, as various state agencies release rules packages.
But on Wednesday, to open the afternoon session, Jeremiah Murphy, lobbyist for marijuana legalization advocates, took to the dais to chide a "miserly" approach by lawmakers, who'd sought to tighten rules and winnow eligibility for patients.
"You will create a black market," charged Murphy to legislators, if they continued to make the rules "tighter and tighter."
Ultimately, any battling over definitions of "certifications" or "practitioners," or how prescriptions and prescribers of medical marijuana are referred to by state law, could be, at least for adults, waylaid if the South Dakota Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of Amendment A, which would legalize marijuana use for adults across the state.
But on that score, everyone keeps waiting.
"We just keep waiting for the Supreme Court to make a ruling," said chair Rep. Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, at the outset to the afternoon meeting. "We're treading water till then."