Pubdate: Sat, 13 Jun 2015
Source: Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, SD)
Copyright: 2015 Argus Leader
Author: Mark Walker


An Emery Woman Is the Latest Advocate Attempting to Legalize Medical 
Marijuana in South Dakota

Six-hundred fifty miles.

That's the length Melissa Mentele has gone in search of relief.

Mentele has lived with chronic pain since a 2012 workplace injury. 
She was moving a nursing home resident who suddenly resisted, 
permanently damaging Mentele's arm and shoulder in the process.

Three years and a dozen medications later, she's only found one that 
helps: cannabis lotion.

It's a cream derived from the cannabis plant, more commonly known as 
marijuana, and it's illegal in South Dakota. Mentele drove 650 miles 
to Boulder, Colo., in October and again in February to get the treatment.

The Emery woman is the latest advocate attempting to legalize medical 
marijuana in South Dakota. She filed paperwork with the attorney 
general's office this week that could lead to the state becoming the 
next to allow medical marijuana.

Similar efforts by others failed in 2006 and 2010. Mentele's proposal 
will face opposition from law enforcement and the medical 
establishment, which worry about unintended consequences.

But medical marijuana backers also believe times are changing, and 
that the adoption of medical marijuana in other states, including 
Colorado and Minnesota, could change the discussion here.

Supporters include people like George Hendrickson, whose 2-year-old 
son Eliyah has a rare form of intractable epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.

Until recently, Eliyah's parents slept in shifts to monitor his 
seizures at night.

"People don't realize when you start taking care of a child with 
Dravet you don't have a savings account," Hendrickson said. "We have 
a $16,000 breathing machine... to declog his lungs so he can breathe 
because he gets all kind of respiratory issues because of his Dravet."

The disorder affects one in 30,000 children, according to the Dravet 
Foundation. Recently, though, a compound found in marijuana called 
CDB has been discussed as a possible treatment.

Hendrickson has repeatedly traveled to Colorado with his son to see a 
doctor, but the trip is expensive and has to be done in stages 
because of Eliyah's condition.

The Colorado doctor can't legally prescribe medical cannabis for him, 
so he instead recommended a series of other medication that help 
manage his condition. Eliyah receives 10 doses in the morning, three 
at noon, three in the evening and three more at night.

Hendrickson said he and his wife have contemplated moving to 
Colorado, but worry about finding jobs and housing. Instead, they 
hope South Dakota voters might support medical marijuana.

Mentele founded the South Dakota Family Coalition in November. The 
organization helps put South Dakota families like the Hendricksons in 
touch with treatment options in Colorado.

"Our primary focus is educating and helping people find the resources 
they need, to get the medicine they need," Mentele said.

Her next goal is to bring those treatments here. Mentele needs to 
collect more than 13,000 signatures to put her proposal to legalize 
medical marijuana to a statewide public vote in 2016.

The initiative would allow qualifying patients to receive a 
registration card from the South Dakota Health Department that 
details their medical condition. Non-South Dakota residents would be 
allowed to use registration cards from other states.

Patients would be allowed 3 ounces of marijuana and a minimum of six 
plants if cultivation is allowed. Quantities of other marijuana 
products would be determined by the state Health Department.

South Dakota voters previously defeated attempts to legalize medical 
marijuana. In 2006, 48 percent of voters supported a ballot measure. 
Four years later, support fell to 37 percent.

The South Dakota Medical Association opposed those attempts but a 
spokesperson said it won't take a stance on the new proposal until it 
knows for sure whether is will be on the 2016 ballot.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said he would only support medical 
marijuana legalization if the treatments were backed by the FDA, if 
prescriptions can be written only by physicians, and if products can 
be only dispensed by a pharmacy.

"I do hope that medicine may reach a point in which some form of 
marijuana or THC can safely be prescribed under a doctor's care for 
treatment," Jackley said.

Sioux Falls Police Chief Doug Barthel is against legalizing marijuana 
for medical use. He thinks most groups pushing for medical marijuana 
are just looking for a way around the law to use it for recreation.

"I certainly sympathize with the very small percentage of people who 
have illnesses and ailments that marijuana has been able to help," 
Barthel. "I think there is certainly an opening to get some sort of 
FDA approval for that to get them help."

Twenty-three states now allow the use of medical marijuana. A handful 
of other have been discussing whether or not they should join the 
medical marijuana movement.

Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project said discussions 
surrounding medical cannabis have become more mainstream. He said as 
evidence continues to suggest medical cannabis can be managed 
effectively an not abused, other states will give it serious consideration.

Christopher Brown of Americans for Safe Access, which lobbies for 
medical marijuana nationally, said patients such as Mentele who 
suffer from chronic pain can benefit from the product.

"There is a lot of belief that if you open the option up to people, 
you will see a decrease in opiate dependency," Brown said.

Mentele said opiates were not effective for her. The cannabis cream 
has worked, though.

"I put it on my arms," she said. "From the tips of my fingers to my 
arm pits and I was pain-free."

She went to Colorado twice for three days each to use the lotion. She 
said the effects last for about a month and a half. The trip is too 
expensive to make more frequently, though.

On Thursday she'll begin collecting signatures for her ballot measure 
at a kickoff event at the downtown Sioux Falls library.

"It's hard," Mentele said about not being able to get the lotion in 
South Dakota. "I want to go back to work. I want to be the mom I was 
before this. I want to have a life."


States with legal medical marijuana

1. Washington State - legalized medical and recreational marijuana use

2. Oregon - legalized medical and recreational marijuana use

3. Colorado - legalized medical and recreational marijuana use

4. Alaska  legalized medical and recreational marijuana use

5. The District of Columbia - legalized medical and recreational marijuana use

6. Hawaii  legal for medical use

7. California - legal for medical use

8. Nevada - legal for medical use

9. Arizona - legal for medical use

10. New Mexico - legal for medical use

11. Montana - legal for medical use

12. Minnesota - legal for medical use

13. Illinois - legal for medical use

14. Michigan - legal for medical use

15. New York - legal for medical use

16. New Hampshire  legal for medical use

17. Vermont  legal for medical use

18. Rhode Island  legal for medical use

19. Delaware  legal for medical use

20. Connecticut  legal for medical use

21. Maine - legal for medical use

22. Maryland  legal for medical use

23. Massachusetts  legal for medical use

Past Medical Marijuana Votes in South Dakota

A 2006 measure to legalize medical came close to passing with 48 
percent in favor.

A 2010 a measure to legalize failed with only 37 percent of people 
voting in favor.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom