The sponsors of a South Dakota medical marijuana initiative scheduled to appear on the ballot in November are suing state Attorney General Larry Long over a ballot summary that gives voters reasons to oppose the measure. Long, who is charged with writing a neutral summary of each state ballot initiative, started by renaming the measure. Instead of "an act to provide safe access to medical marijuana for certain qualified persons," he wants to call it "an Initiative to authorize marijuana use for adults and children with specified medical conditions." The summary itself also mentions children, saying "the proposed law would legalize marijuana use or possession for any adult or child who has one of several listed medical conditions and who is registered with the Department of Health."
Long's summary implicitly offers two other arguments against the initiative: that patients who use marijuana as a medicine would still be vulnerable to arrest under federal law and that doctors who recommend marijuana could lose the DEA registration that allows them to prescribe controlled substances. The first point is true but misleading, since the overwhelming majority of marijuana arrests are made under state law. Patients who grew their own marijuana (or officially designated "caregivers" who grew it for them) might be targeted by the DEA, but the risk of arrest would be much lower than if they also could be prosecuted under state law. The second point is even more misleading, since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has held that the First Amendment bars the federal government from prosecuting or revoking the prescription privileges of doctors who advise their patients to use marijuana. The Supreme Court refused to hear the government's appeal of that decision.