South Dakota House Passes Medical Cannabis Expansion Bill


On Monday, Senate Bill 1 was approved by the South Dakota House of Representatives by a 36 to 32 vote. This bill ultimately allows for the expansion of South Dakota’s medical cannabis program, which was voted into law 853 days previously.

If fully passed, this bill will allow medical cannabis eligibility for those struggling with:

  • AIDS and HIV
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

SB-1 has been advocated for by the South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws for some time. As Mathew Scweich, executive director of the organization, explains:

“Sometimes people use the pharmaceutical options and they just don’t work and we think cannabis should be there as a legal and safe option if a person and a healthcare provider decide it’s in their best interest.”

Naturally, this bill would have an extremely positive impact on many South Dakotans. One of those is Becky Letsche who served in Afghanistan from 2010 through 2011. Letsche came home injured and developed severe PTSD. However, the medical options available to her just weren’t doing it.

As she puts it: “I had tried several different therapies—traditional therapies and medications—but they weren’t working. I was kind of at my wit’s end and I had heard from other veterans that have used medical marijuana and it was really helping them with their PTSD.”

Upon hearing this, Letsche decided to give medical cannabis a try, and her life changed as a result. “I was able to get off the dangerous medication, I was able to get off prescription narcotics for pain, and medical marijuana was helping me do that,” she said.

Letsche has taken the time to talk one on one with lawmakers concerning her experience. She claims that upon hearing these stories, many are changing their minds about medical cannabis.

The Limitations of the South Dakota Medical Cannabis Program

In order to come into law, SB 1 must be approved by the Senate. Most advocates aren’t too concerned about this considering it has already passed in the Senate previously. The only reason it was even brought back to the House is that slight alterations were made to this version, removing glaucoma from its list of qualifying conditions.

Still, the passing of the House remains big news for South Dakota. The state has seen one of the toughest fights when it comes to recreational legalization—initially passing in 2020, being turned down, and then failing to pass in 2022.

It can be expected that people like Letsche were hoping for recreational legalization to acquire the medicine they need. However, with such measures failing, it’s comforting to know that there will at least be an expansion to the already existing medical marijuana program.

Admittedly, this program is one of the most limited in the country. Namely, due to the fact that there are only six conditions to qualify patients:

  • Cachexia
  • Chronic or debilitating pain
  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Muscle spasticity (severe)
  • Nausea

With these limitations, only 2,600 people in the entire state hold a medical marijuana card (as of September 2022). On top of this, there are only 150 approved practitioners, making access to medical cannabis much less convenient than in other states.

Still, with the passage of this bill, there is hope that this will change. And with more lawmakers turning in favor of cannabis, chances are South Dakota will have recreational access soon enough.

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