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SD bill seeks medical defense for marijuana charge

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 31, 2013 at 2:27 pm •  Published: January 31, 2013

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Two South Dakota lawmakers with roots in law enforcement said Thursday that people charged with possessing small amounts of marijuana should be able to defend themselves in court by arguing they need if for medical reasons.

Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, a police officer, and Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, a retired police chief, told a South Dakota House committee that their bill would not legalize marijuana or set up a system where people could get it for medical purposes. But they said people suffering or dying from cancer or debilitating diseases should be able to use medical necessity as a defense if they are arrested for possessing two ounces or less of marijuana.

"We're just giving the person dying of a crippling disease the opportunity, if the judge allows them, to offer a defense," Kaiser said.

However, state and local law enforcement officials urged the committee to reject the bill, saying it would open the door to eventual legalization of marijuana in the state.

The Health and Human Services Committee heard opening testimony on the bill Thursday, but delayed a vote on it until at least Tuesday.

Under the bill, someone charged with possessing marijuana could ask a judge to allow a defense based on medical need. The judge could consider expert testimony and recommendations by doctors in determining whether that person has a medical need to use marijuana.

Asked about the proposal at his weekly press conference, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said he hadn't read the bill but didn't like the idea.

"I don't in concept support the notion of a defense like that. I think it's tantamount to legalizing medical marijuana use. It's something the voters have rejected and that I personally reject as well," the Republican governor said.

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