Once again, South Dakotans were at risk of losing their voice on effecting public cannabis policy, but a legislative bullet was dodged on Feb. 23.

Senate Bill 20 would have undone protections included in the state’s medical cannabis program, which 70% of voters approved in the November 2020 election, but the legislation was defeated by an 8-5 committee vote Thursday.

Under voter-approved Initiative Measure 26, an affirmative defense provision allows those who don’t have medical cannabis cards to defend themselves against punitive action for possessing certain amounts of cannabis by arguing they’ve met a qualifying health condition under the state’s medical program.

S.B. 20 would have eliminated that defense measure, Keloland reported.

“S.B. 20 was about the medical purpose defense, after the fact that I could have had a medical card,” Sen. Helene Duhamel, a Republican senator from Rapid City, told the media outlet.

Duhamel’s sponsorship of the bill came after South Dakota began issuing medical cannabis cards, which the senator indicated as a reason to eliminate the protective measure for those who do not have cards.

Duhamel’s effort wasn’t the first that took aim at a voter-approved measure from the 2020 ballot. In November 2021, the state’s Supreme Court overturned Amendment A, an adult-use legalization measure that was passed by 54.2% of voters.

RELATED: Seven Months Later, South Dakota Supreme Court Says ‘No’ to Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the advocacy group behind getting I.M. 26 on the 2020 ballot, responded to S.B. 20’s defeat on social media.

“Great news! We defeated S.B. 20 in committee today in an 8-5 vote,” SDBML stated. “This is a big victory for medical cannabis patients because S.B. 20 would have eliminated critical legal protections established by Measure 26. We want to thank everyone who contacted their legislators about S.B. 20.”

Although the state has started issuing medical cannabis cards, patients haven’t had the easiest routes in obtaining approval for those cards, SDBML campaign director Matthew Schweich told Keloland.

Not only does South Dakota have yet to license any operating medical cannabis dispensaries, Schweich said, but only about 200 medical cannabis cards have been approved for patients with qualifying conditions.

Continuing to provide potential patients protections under the affirmative defense measure was a big win, he said.

“Every day we get emails, Facebook messages, phone calls from people saying, ‘I can’t get a recommendation from my doctor, what do I do?’” Schweich told Keloland. “The reality is, we’re in a transition phase with the program just getting up and running, and a lot of doctors are hesitant to write these recommendations. I think over time it will get better, but right now it’s very difficult for people to get recommendations.”

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