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PIERRE | Two lawmakers, including a former Rapid City police chief, are seeking support for a bill that would allow anyone arrested with two ounces or less of marijuana to use medical necessity as a defense in the courts.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, and Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, were looking Tuesday to line up supporters for the legislation, which they hope to introduce today.

Tieszen said the intent of the legislation isn’t to legalize marijuana or to allow storefront pharmacies.

“All they can do is defend themselves in court. They can bring their experts, they can show their disease or illness, and let the judge and jury decide,” he said.

Kaiser, a police officer, said the bill would give defendants the option to present the defense and judges would decide whether to consider it.

“It doesn’t legalize it,” he said.

Kaiser stressed that the marijuana still would be confiscated at the time of arrest and the person in possession would be booked on criminal charges.

Asked whether the marijuana would be returned to the person if the judge accepted the medical necessity argument, Kaiser said that would not be the case.

“The bill does not authorize that, because the marijuana would still be illegal,” he said.

Tieszen said former Rep. Tom Hennies, another former Rapid City police chief, offered similar legislation in 2001.

Hennies, who died in 2009, was the only legislator who signed his name to the bill, which was killed after its first committee hearing, where it was opposed by police chiefs, sheriffs, the highway patrol, the attorney general's office and the state Health Department.

Tiezen called this year's measure the Tom Hennies memorial bill.

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“He thought it was the thing to do. I looked at it and I agree. So I’ll spend a little political capital,” Tieszen said.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley opposes the medical necessity defense. He said South Dakota voters turned down marijuana legalization measures in 2006 and 2010.

Jackley said marijuana is often a gateway drug that leads to other drug use and to violent crimes. He said doctors believe there are safer medications and that possession of marijuana violates federal law.

Nineteen men and two women are in South Dakota’s prisons for marijuana distribution or possession, he said. That is less than 1 percent of the total population of inmates.

“A medical necessity defense will in reality go a long way toward legalizing marijuana by making it more difficult to enforce marijuana laws and require a medical examination and expensive battle of experts with taxpayer money in too many instances,” Jackley said.

Kaiser and Tieszen spent Tuesday attempting to gather signatures from other legislators as co-sponsors of their bill. It could be officially submitted today, the final day for unlimited introduction of legislation.

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Managing Editor

Opinion editor for the Rapid City Journal.