- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota medical marijuana supporter hopes to begin gathering signatures within a month to put a proposal on the 2016 ballot to allow people with serious medical conditions to use marijuana.

Melissa Mentele, an activist from Emery, South Dakota, said Tuesday that the ballot language she’s been working on is now under review at the state Attorney General’s office. Mentele and other organizers need 13,871 signatures by Nov. 8 to get the proposal on the 2016 ballot.

Mentele, 38, said she’s attempting to help patients similar to herself - she suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy - who have debilitating medical conditions ranging from cancer to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mentele said she’s pushing a ballot proposal because state lawmakers haven’t been receptive to enacting a South Dakota medical marijuana program through the Legislature. The proposal would allow patients with a physician’s recommendation to purchase or cultivate marijuana and possess up to 3 ounces of the plant.

“We’re trying to bring compassionate access onto the ballot, because that’s what we need in South Dakota,” she said. “If somebody doesn’t fight to change the law, it’s going to stay a bad law.”

Activists have failed to legalize medical marijuana in South Dakota at least twice over the past decade using the voter initiative process. A 2006 proposal received 47.7 percent of the vote, and a 2010 effort got 36.7 percent. Mentele said she’s concerned about raising money for the 2016 campaign, but she said organizers are planning fundraising efforts including soliciting donations at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and other large gatherings.

Bob Newland, 67, is an activist from Hot Springs, South Dakota, who has long supported efforts to allow medical marijuana in the state. Newland, who pleaded guilty to felony possession of the drug in 2009, is co-sponsoring two recently proposed voter initiatives that would prohibit the sale and transfer of tobacco and alcohol in South Dakota.

Andrew Ziegler, 52, is also sponsoring the two ballot measures. He said the efforts in part stem from pro-marijuana activism, and he said it’s about getting “fed up” with the state government.

Newland said he wants consistency in the law.

“For several decades now, most states, including South Dakota, have been putting people in jail or shooting them for using a benign herb,” Newland said. “Meanwhile, most states, South Dakota included, have been receiving a substantial portion of their budgets from taxation of the sale of deadly drugs.”

Newland acknowledges it’s unlikely alcohol sales will be banned by a vote, but he said he believes prohibiting the transfer and sale of tobacco would have an “excellent” chance of becoming law.

An explanation of the two proposals from the Attorney General’s office says they would cost the state tax revenue if they’re enacted.

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