South Dakota medical pot cards rise with ‘pop-up clinics’

Jars of marijuana line a shelf at The Flower Shop Dispensary in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Oct. 14,...
Jars of marijuana line a shelf at The Flower Shop Dispensary in Sioux Falls, S.D. on Oct. 14, 2022. South Dakota's legal pot industry has started with medical cannabis, but voters are deciding whether to also legalize recreational pot. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)(Stephen Groves | AP)
Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 9:32 AM MDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota has seen a rapid rise in people registering to use medical marijuana in recent months, as many obtain their patient cards through temporary consultation sites rather than their regular medical providers, a state health official told lawmakers Tuesday.

Chris Qualm, who administers the state’s medical pot program, told a legislative oversight committee that there are now more than 4,000 people registered to use the drug. That’s a rapid rise from this summer, when the state tracked several hundred people registering each month.

Many of those cardholders are getting certified to use medical marijuana at so-called pop-up clinics where physicians certify they have a medical condition that qualifies them for medical pot use. The quick consultations — sometimes lasting as little as five minutes — prompted some members of the legislative committee to voice concern that the process was not thorough enough.

Advocates for medical marijuana access said patients were turning to the temporary consultation sites because established health care systems have not embraced the drug.

“The problem is not pop-up clinics,” said Melissa Mentele, who organized the 2020 ballot initiative that legalized medical cannabis. “It’s our health systems refusing to participate in the program.”

The health care systems are operating in a legal gray area because the federal government has not legalized pot for medical use, said state Sen. Erin Tobin, the Republican chair of the committee.

Meanwhile, the committee on Tuesday approved a bill proposed by the Department of Health that would list specific medical conditions that would qualify someone for a medical marijuana card. It also would strike a provision that allows residents to petition the Department of Health to add specific medical conditions to the list of qualifying conditions.

Lawmakers on the committee unanimously approved the bill, but medical cannabis advocates voiced opposition.