South Dakotans support the legalization of medical marijuana and industrial
hemp, according to a statewide poll sponsored by two marijuana reform
groups.

But House Republican Leader Bill Peterson of Sioux Falls said lawmakers will
likely proceed very cautiously on any legislation to approve medical
marijuana or industrial hemp.

The telephone survey of 505 registered voters in South Dakota showed that:

More than 80 percent would support the use of medical marijuana.

85 percent would support allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp.

More than 95 percent of South Dakotans believe it would be wrong to arrest
and imprison an ill patient who is using marijuana with a doctor's approval.

"The South Dakota poll had the highest favorable results of any poll in the
nation," said Chuck Thomas, director of the Washington D.C.-based Marijuana
Policy Project. "They support a nationwide trend that medical patients
should have access."

Peterson counters that medical professionals have told him medical marijuana
isn't necessary.

"What they've told me is that there are actually pharmaceuticals that have
been FDA-approved that are more beneficial than marijuana for treating
cancer and things like that. I think we need to follow the advice of medical
professionals before we proceed on a path like that," Peterson said.

Peterson added that South Dakota should take a wait-and-see attitude on
industrial hemp, saying supporters may overstate its potential as a
specialty crop.

The poll was co-sponsored by the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Council and
the Marijuana Policy Project. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4
percent.

The hemp council is an advocacy group working to legalize cultivation and
production of industrial hemp.

The marijuana project focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana
use, with an emphasis on making marijuana available to seriously ill people
who have the approval of their doctors.

On Friday, state Sen. Ron Volesky, a Huron Democrat, introduced Senate Bill
73, which would legalize marijuana used for medical purposes by a patient
who has obtained a doctor's prescription.

"It's an important issue for the people of South Dakota to consider,"
Volesky said. "If we can help people who are suffering from glaucoma or
cancer -- so be it."

Creative Broadcast Systems of Spearfish conducted the survey during a
two-week period from Dec. 26 to Jan. 9. The group used randomly selected
numbers from telephone directory listings from all over South Dakota.

"We wanted to find out how South Dakotans felt about the issues," said Bob
Newland, a co-founder of the South Dakota Industrial Hemp Council.

Newland said the results were staggering.

"We went into this expecting 60 to 70 percent support, but this is
overwhelming. One of the pollsters said it's almost too good for
credibility," Newland said. "Our take on this is simply that voters who are
properly informed will support hemp and medical usage, in overwhelming
numbers. And that the government has been misinforming legislators and the
public for more than 30 years."

Thomas said his group is leading a national effort to pass as many medical
marijuana laws as possible.

"Since 1996 eight states have passed ballot initiatives for medical use,"
Thomas said. "Hawaii was the first."

Thomas estimates bills will be introduced in all 50 states, and that the
legislation may pass in 12.

"South Dakota is one we have set our sights on, as being able to pass
medical marijuana legislation," Thomas said. "We have to assume that state
legislators are willing to listen to the voters, and make an exception for
those who are approved to use marijuana, by a doctor."

Volesky's bill would allow patients or their caregivers to cultivate or
possess marijuana for medical use, as long as the person has obtained a
prescription from a physician. But if enacted, marijuana would still be
illegal under federal law. Thomas said this is not a problem.

Statistics from the FBI show that 99 percent of all marijuana arrests are
made by state and local officials. The federal mandate is to go after
large-scale distributors.

"If you remove state penalties, state and local police will have to turn the
other way," Thomas said. "I've seen this work in other states. Patients are
using and growing their own medical marijuana, and not being arrested by
police."


Newshawk: Sledhead
Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jan 2001
Source: Argus Leader (SD)
Copyright: 2001 Argus Leader
Contact: editor@argusleader.com
Address: P.O. Box 5034, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5034
Fax: (605) 331-2294
Website: http://www.argusleader.com/
Forum: http://www.argusleader.com/info/forum.html
Author: Lee Williams, and Lance Nixon