South Dakota lawmakers have “pop-up” medical marijuana card clinics in their crosshairs.
A contingent of Republican legislators in the South Dakota House is hoping to narrow down who can certify patients to use and grow medical marijuana in the state. This stems from the arrival of several companies in South Dakota that connect cannabis-friendly doctors with applicants for the Department of Health’s medical marijuana program.
Rep. Brandei Schaefbauer, R-Aberdeen, said she has drafted legislation that would amend the definition of what constitutes a “patient-practitioner” relationship. The specific intent is to require individuals to go through their primary care provider when seeking a medical marijuana card. Under the freshman legislator’s bill, a patient could also see a medical professional who isn’t their primary care provider if the doctor or physician specializes in treating a debilitating medical condition to obtain an ID card.
“Why is it so easy to get this at pop-up clinics when you can’t obtain narcotics the same way legally?” Schaefbauer said, referring to companies like My Marijuana Cards and MMJ Card Clinic that specialize in medical cannabis certifications. “You have to have a relationship with your practitioner to get a narcotic, unless it’s an emergency situation.”
Lawmakers like Schaefbauer and Rep. Fred Deutsch of Florence have criticized “pop-up” clinics for undermining the state’s medical marijuana program by rubber-stamping applications for medical marijuana card certifications.
These companies are also credited for the Department of Health having issued more than 11,000 medical marijuana cards since medical marijuana became legal in 2021, nearly double the amount forecasted by a consultant who helped the state establish the program.
Deutsch earlier this year put a spotlight on the industry when he, one of the Legislature’s most vocal opponents of loosened cannabis policy, obtained a medical marijuana card after undergoing a health screening in what he said was a Holiday Inn convention room in Watertown.
Deutsch says he shouldn’t have qualified to use medical marijuana but was certified anyway. He has since surrendered his DOH-issued medical marijuana card back to the state.
But now he’ll use that firsthand experience to push for reforms, like Schaefbauer’s bill, which he intends to co-sponsor.
“I hope this can be a good compromise,” said Deutsch, who was unsuccessful in getting similar legislation to Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk during this year’s annual lawmaking session. “It’s a good bill that addresses the most significant problem that people in South Dakota understand about pop-up clinics: that anybody can go get a card.”
Should the measure earn passage this time around, it wouldn’t necessarily put an end to the marijuana card clinics. Patients could still use them if they are referred by their primary care physician.
If passed, a violation of the proposed legislation would be a class two misdemeanor.
Those on the front lines of South Dakota’s recent marijuana reforms say the measure is unnecessary and is an attempt to walk back the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana program.
Matthew Schweich, head of the campaign committee that pushed medical marijuana legalization to passage in 2020, blasted the legislation as another attempt to water down South Dakota’s medical marijuana program. And though he’s not the primary drafter of the latest bill, Schweich criticized Deutsch for his efforts to undercut access to medical marijuana here.
“Rep. Deutsch’s obsession with criminalizing medical cannabis patients in defiance of the will of the people will continue, and I am not surprised,” Schweich said.
Schaefbauer and Deutsch, though, contend that if marijuana is medicine, there shouldn’t be different prescribing and certification practices.
“If this is truly a medical service that we are providing, then we need to treat it like that and have robust and safe standards,” Schaefbauer said. “Meeting in a hotel room is not safe medical standards.”