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South Dakota Medical Cannabis Recommendations Jump After Mass Registration Event

Following a April mass registration, South Dakota’s medical cannabis patients have seen a surge in their numbers.

South Dakota voters have legalized medical use of cannabis. They approved a 2020 ballot initiative that was passed by nearly 70% of the votes. In late 2018, the Department of Health started accepting applications to obtain medical cannabis ID cards. After more than five years, less than 500 cards had been issued by the state health department to patients who were eligible. South Dakotans For Better Marijuana Laws, a group of cannabis advocates, expected thousands more patients to register during that period.

“I think they’re going incredibly slow,” Melissa Mentele, the primary drafter of Initiated Measure 26, the 2020 ballot measure that legalized medical pot in South Dakota, told the Argus Leader.

South Dakota’s medical cannabis law requires patients with qualifying medical conditions to receive a recommendation to use weed medicinally from a physician licensed by the state. Unlike many other states, which allow video or telephone consultations, doctors must see patients to give the recommendation.

South Dakota Marijuana Spring Fling Certifies New Patients

An event was held in April by a Michigan company to link doctors and potential medical patients. But Molefi Branson, the founder of, had difficulty finding local doctors to certify patients after sending out hundreds of inquiries to physicians across the state. Statewide, only 96 doctors had registered with the health department’s online portal, a required step to certify patients for South Dakota’s medical cannabis program.

“Despite being available since November, only a few South Dakota residents have been able to obtain a state-issued medical cannabis card due to the limited number of doctors authorized to certify patients in the state,” Branson said in a statement from the company.

As a service to patients, Branson’s company recruited doctors based in other states including Illinois and Missouri to obtain a license to practice medicine in South Dakota so they could write recommendations during a mass screening. The three-day festival, known as the Marijuana Springs Fling, took place downtown Sioux Falls between April 26 and April 28.

“The demand is so high and we had zero luck with any practitioners in South Dakota wanting to put their neck out for patients,” Branson said. “So we had to get them licensed here.”

The average number of medical marijuana identification cards issued by the department before the launch of the registration event for medical weed cards was two per day. The agency approved just 419 cards in April, 26 days after it opened processing applications for medical marijuana identification cards on November 8. According to recent statistics, since November 8, the Marijuana Spring Flaing, the department had issued 16 to 20 medical cards per day. The total number has jumped to 652 in less than three weeks.

Major Healthcare Systems Wary of Medical Pot

Medical cannabis advocates say that the major healthcare systems in South Dakota, Sanford Health and Avera Health, have not supported the state’s medical weed program and have failed to provide information about the number of doctors who have been certified or how many recommendations they have written.

“These major health systems are creating such a barrier,” Mentele said. “Realistically, we should have 10 times that in the state of South Dakota.”

The public statements of both the health and medical systems regarding medical cannabis have been neutral. The doctors can make medical cannabis recommendations.

“It is up to each individual Sanford provider to determine the use of medical marijuana in regards to each patient’s individual care plan and what they feel is medically best for their patients,” said Dr. Joshua Crabtree, clinic vice president for Sanford Health’s Sioux Falls region.

The details of South Dakota’s medical cannabis program have also made some physicians wary to provide recommendations to use cannabis medicinally to their patients. The law requires that doctors who are certified to certify patients have attested that medicinal marijuana will provide a palliative or therapeutic effect for the patient.

The state legislature was passed in March and Governor. Kristi Noem signed the bill amending the medical cannabis program. The law changes only require doctors to verify that a patient is not suffering from any of the severe medical conditions that allow them to legally use cannabis medicinally. Health care professionals and advocates for medical cannabis expect that the program will attract more patients after it goes into effect July 1.

“We continue to evaluate the medical cannabis program in South Dakota and changes to the program, including some of the changes made during this last South Dakota Legislative Session,” Crabtree said.