PIERRE, SD — A pair of South Dakota lawmakers with law enforcement backgrounds testified Thursday on behalf of their bill that would allow a medical necessity defense to those charged with possession of marijuana in small amounts.
The Health and Human Services Committee heard opening testimony on the bill Thursday, but delayed a vote on it until at least next week.
The bill, House Bill 1227, is sponsored by an active duty police officer, Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-Aberdeen), and a former police chief, Sen. Craig Teiszen (R-Rapid City).
Tieszen and Kaiser said the intent of their proposed bill is not to legalize medical marijuana or allow storefront dispensaries in the state. The proposal would allow those arrested on marijuana charges to argue that their use was out of medical necessity.
“All they can do is defend themselves in court,” said Sen. Tieszen. ”They can bring their experts, they can show their disease or illness, and let the judge and jury decide.”
Marijuana would remain illegal, Rep. Kaiser said, telling the committee to ignore sate and local law enforcement officials who urged them to reject the bill, saying it would open the door to eventual legalization of marijuana in the state.
“I want to focus on the merits of this bill, and I want to encourage the committee to focus on the merits of this bill,” Kaiser said.
Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard said he hasn’t read the text of the proposed bill, but doesn’t like the idea of allowing a medical marijuana defense.
“I don’t in concept support the notion of a defense like that. I think it’s tantamount to legalizing medical marijuana use. It’s something the voters have rejected and that I personally reject as well,” the governor said at his weekly press conference.
State Attorney General Marty Jackley also opposes the medical necessity defense.
“A medical necessity defense will in reality go a long way toward legalizing marijuana by making it more difficult to enforce marijuana laws and require a medical examination and expensive battle of experts with taxpayer money in too many instances,” Jackley said.
South Dakota voters failed to approve two separate medical marijuana ballot initiatives in 2006 and 2010.