Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin is running for reëlection in the June primary. He faces only one challenger, DCI agent Pat West. Both are Republicans, so Republican voters will pick the county’s sheriff on June 7.
Both West and Merwin say medical marijuana is creating headaches for law enforcement, since they have no way to check all the medical marijuana cards that doobage-doers are waving to get out of jail:
Pat West: “…I understand there is a medical use for marijuana, but the problem that we’re gonna run into is what is the legitimate marijuana card and what is not…. So, when it comes to the medical marijuana card, you’re gonna have a lot of forgery. I work prescription fraud and joint diversion part time right now and there’s a lot of fraud going on. You’re just going to allow people to make up those cards and there’s no database for us to look it up. No database to figure out who has a legitimate card and who does not.”
Ron Merwin: “I agree with Pat. The legalization of marijuana has put law enforcement in South Dakota is very precarious situation because there is no way for us to check on legitimacy of these things. And there’s no way of us to find out whether their card is legit or even the doctor’s legit. Our hands are tied, and it makes it very difficult” [Deb Holland, “Meade County Sheriff Candidates Face Off at Forum,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2022.04.30].
Did I miss something? Initiated Measure 26, now codified as SDCL Chapter 34-20G, directs the Department of Health to create a secure phone or web-based verification system to allow Sheriff Merwin and Agent West to perform exactly the checks they want:
Within one hundred twenty days of July 1, 2021, the department shall establish a secure phone or web-based verification system. The verification system shall allow law enforcement personnel and medical cannabis establishments to enter a registry identification number and determine whether the number corresponds with a current, valid registry identification card. The system may disclose only:
- Whether the identification card is valid;
- The name of the cardholder;
- Whether the cardholder is a qualifying patient or a designated caregiver;
- Whether the cardholder is permitted to cultivate cannabis plants;
- The registry identification number of any affiliated registered qualifying patient; and
- The registry identification of the qualifying patient’s dispensary or dispensaries, if any [SDCL 34-20G-45].
That statute seems pretty straightforward: create a database, give cops access, cops punch in cardholder names and/or their random ten-digit alphanumeric identification number, and beep-boop-beep-boop! we know in 4.20 seconds whether a pot card is legit or not. The state requested proposalsto build such a verification system in April 2021. The Department of Health hired California-based Accela in October 2021 to provide and run that system for $176,125 a year for five years. The contract reflects the statutory requirement that the registry be in place by November 18, 2021. The registry West and Merwin say they don’t have thus should have been available for almost six months now.
Maybe the problem is that the state has been slow to add medical marijuana patients to its registry and has been issuing flimsy paper cards with ink that doesn’t stick, while the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe has managed to issue durable plastic pot cards to over 10,000 patients. The tribe operates its medical marijuana program independently of the state, so perhaps the majority of cards out there, even on the opposite side of the state from Flandreau, are from the tribe and are not entered into the meager state database law enforcement can access.