Oversight committee clashes over ‘pop-up’ medical marijuana clinics

By: - October 25, 2022 4:09 pm

Medical marijuana products. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A medical marijuana card clinic popped up in early October at the Watertown Hampton Inn, where walk-ins were welcome.

An advance notice in the local newspaper said “certification takes roughly five minutes,” and the medical cannabis card would be mailed to the patient once approved.

South Dakota’s medical marijuana industry

  • 174 approved practitioners
  • 4,202 patient cards issued
  • 145 medical marijuana dispensaries
  • 26 cultivation sites
  • 6 product manufacturers
  • 2 testing sites

Source: Oct. 25 Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee meeting. Tribal reservation numbers unknown.

That’s how most medical marijuana patients in South Dakota are receiving their cards, according to the state Department of Health.

Some members of the Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee expressed concerns Tuesday about “pop-up clinics” and how easily patients are getting approved. The committee met at the Capitol in Pierre.

Chris Qualm, of the Department of Health, said hundreds of patient applications come in over the course of a few days whenever a pop-up clinic takes place. The department said that’s how it typically finds out a pop-up clinic has happened. 

Bryan Walz, a captain with the Pierre Police Department, compared the pop-up clinics to “doctor shopping” by opioid addicts.

“If you’re just out there and can walk by, get a pamphlet, walk in, and in five minutes get a recommendation, I mean, in my eyes and in the public’s eyes, this is not legitimate,” Walz said.

Despite the concerns, pop-up clinics featuring licensed medical practitioners are legal under state laws and regulations arising from voters’ 2020 legalization of medical marijuana.

Additionally, medical marijuana patient and advocate Melissa Mentele said concerns about pop-up clinics ignore the problems patients are having with the medical marijuana program. She said patients are going to pop-up clinics because they’re having trouble completing the process through traditional medical facilities.

“I know it leaves the door wide open. But that wide-open door is the only way a lot of patients are getting access. And it’s unfortunate,” Mentele said. “We have a program that is very good, but is being tossed out the door because health care systems are not following it.”

A chart from the state Department of Health illustrating the number of applying medical marijuana businesses has slowed.

The Department of Health says there are 174 approved practitioners and 4,202 patient cards issued in South Dakota. The department has licensed 145 medical marijuana dispensaries, 26 cultivation sites, six product manufacturers, and two testing sites. Numbers for tribal reservations are not included in that data.

Qualm said medical marijuana business applications began to flatline in June. He said the department inspects the medical marijuana industry regularly.

The proposed legalization of recreational marijuana is on the ballot in South Dakota’s Nov. 8 general election.

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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.