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South Dakota House rejects ban on marijuana edibles after lawmaker's personal testimony

Prior to a vote, Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, gave personal remarks about his daughter using gummy-shaped medical cannabis to alleviate her 7-year-old son's seizures.

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Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade.
JOHNNY SUNDBY
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PIERRE, S.D. — In stirring remarks that appeared to turn the tide against a statewide ban on medical cannabis edibles, Rep. Oren Lesmeister , D-Parade, spoke about his grandson.

The West River Democrat had sat quietly through testimony, including from House Bill 1058's prime sponsor, Rep. Fred Deutsch , R-Florence, who'd lambasted candy-flavored marijuana as opening the floodgates to increasing emergency room visits for children.

"Once the products are out of the package," Deutsch said. "They're indistinguishable from actual candy, and they're very appealing to children."

But, in rising to oppose the measure, Lesmeister said that's the point.

"I really wish some of you that want to bring these laws actually lived with somebody who needed THC," Lesmeister said. "I've got a grandson that's 7 years old who has multiple seizures an hour."

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Lesmeister said his grandson uses "gummy THC" to control his seizures.

"I would love you to watch my daughter medicate my grandson without a gummy bear THC," he continued. "When they are out of them, and she has to use oils ... that she can put into a rice cake or something ... it doesn't work out well."

Throughout the first three weeks of the 2022 legislative session South Dakota lawmakers have pushed the green button on a number of bills designed to alter Initiated Measure 26. The measure to legalize medical cannabis was passed by South Dakota voters in 2020 with more than 70% of the vote.

But, at least on the Senate side, these measures have all been previously vetted and birthed by an interim summer committee of lawmakers across both chambers and parties.

Alternatively, Deutsch — whose edible ban was spurned by the summer study committee — has brought a number of measures that critics say take a chainsaw to IM 26.

HB 1058 would've prohibited not only flavoring and sweeteners in THC products, but also ban any product "for human consumption," effectively banning edibles.

On the House floor prior to Lesmeister's testimony, the bill — which had narrowly passed the State Affairs committee 7-6 earlier in the week — had already drawn bipartisan opposition.

Rep. Sydney Davis, R-Burbank, noted that if the state had decided to treat marijuana as medication, then putting further strictures on sweeteners would be an anomaly compared with restrictions on other drugs.

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Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton, also pointed out that the Rules Review committee already approved strictures asked for by the Department of Health that ban cannabis products designed to appeal to children.

"[The rules] say you cannot manufacture a product in the distinct shape of a human animal creature, character, emoji, or other art work," Cwach said.

But Rep. Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, who serves on Rules Review with Cwach, said such prohibitions are outlined in rules, not in statute. Jensen said that such codification was necessary should a future agency amend the rules.

That's when Lesmeister stood to make his remarks, pointing out that a whole range of drugs — including Tylenol — come with artificial flavorings, from cherry to grape, to make it easier for pediatric consumption.

He also asked where such a restriction would leave his daughter.

"If this passes, what are you going to do?" Lesmeister asked. "You'd send a good mother to jail because she's trying to medicate her son?"

The House then voted down the measure 47-21.

On Monday, Jan. 31, the House will pick back up with another measure to amend IM 26, considering a bill that would allow municipal governments to ban dispensaries from their jurisdiction.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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