SD group plans campaign for medical marijuana

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Associated Press

Posted on July 12, 2010 at 10:02 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 12 at 10:02 PM

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Supporters of a South Dakota ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for medical purposes have spent very little money so far, but a group leader said the campaign could become costly before voters decide the issue in November.

"This could get very expensive," said Emmett Reistroffer of Sioux Falls, chairman of the campaign committee Yes for Compassion, Yes on 13!

The committee plans to hire field workers and recruit volunteers to explain the measure to voters and register supporters to vote, Reistroffer said. The campaign also hopes to advertise on television and radio, he said.

A similar measure narrowly failed in 2006, getting 48 percent of the vote.

"We would hate to see a repeat of 2006," Reistroffer said. "It was such an emotional loss for the patients. We have to make sure we pass it this time."

Staci Eggert, executive director of the South Dakota Sheriffs' Association, said law enforcement officials are likely to oppose the medical marijuana measure because it would cause problems enforcing drug laws. A number of organizations plan to meet in a week or so to discuss whether to set up a campaign committee to fight the measure, she said.

Opponents of the measure have not yet registered any campaign committee with the secretary of state's office.

In its campaign finance report for the first half of the year, Yes for Compassion reported that it received $5,046, mostly from the organization that worked last year to get the issue on the ballot. It spent $1,644, mostly for travel and advertising, and had $3,402 on hand as of June 30.

The organization also got $2,800 in services from supporters, including $1,800 in consultation from the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., a national organization that advocates removing criminal penalties for marijuana use and making marijuana available for medical use.

Reistroffer said the South Dakota campaign so far has been funded almost entirely with local support, but national groups like the Marijuana Policy Project may help fund the fall campaign.

Mike Meno, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said the organization might help finance the South Dakota ballot campaign. However, he said the organization has not yet decided which state ballot campaigns it will support or what kind of aid it will provide.

Arizona also has a ballot measure this fall to legalize medicinal marijuana; California has an initiative on the November ballot to legalize possession of the drug and tax it.

The South Dakota proposal would legalize the limited use of marijuana to treat severe debilitating pain, nausea, seizures and other medical problems. Those eligible would include people suffering from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Supporters argue that marijuana helps ease the pain, muscle spasms and nausea that can accompany chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

The state Health Department would issue registry cards to patients whose doctors certify they have medical needs that could be treated with marijuana. Qualified patients and their designated caregivers could not be arrested or prosecuted for having up to one ounce of marijuana.

Reistroffer said the South Dakota measure would be more restrictive than those approved in the 14 states that allow medical marijuana.

"It does not allow for driving under the influence of the medicine, using it around children or doing it in public, and the amount the patients would be limited to would be the most strict nationwide," Reistroffer said. "What we're asking for is very sensible, very modest and simply protects the patients without asking any more than that."

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