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Medical marijuana dispensary applicants navigate 'daunting' process

Vicki Warne sits behind a stack of papers--business plans, applications and regulations--related to her medical marijuana dispensary application.
Lee Strubinger
Vicki Warne sits behind a stack of papers — business plans, applications and regulations — related to her medical marijuana dispensary application.

Seventy percent of South Dakota voters approved medical marijuana legislation in November of 2020, and that’s when Vicki Warne knew things would change.

The 68-year-old registered nurse had seen the power of CBD. That’s the non-intoxicant chemical found in cannabis. At a CBD store run by a relative in Tennessee, she met a man with Parkinson’s disease.

“I asked him, I said, ‘Could you show me what this does for you?’” Warne said. “As a nurse you want to know, you always want to know. At that point in time he had the shakes pretty bad. He was shaking pretty bad.”

She said he gave himself a dose and within 10 minutes his voice and hands were steady.

“I started to cry," Warne added. "It was just that powerful to watch.”

The life-long Pierre resident opened a CBD store downtown in 2020. And now, Warne plans to start up a new business venture — a cultivation facility and dispensary in Fort Pierre. It will grow and sell cannabis to patients with medical prescriptions. For this great grandmother, that decision was not made lightly.

“With a lot of prayer and a lot of support from my family, friends and patients, we embarked on this journey,” Warne said.

Warne said she had to figure out two things right away — her business plan and its location.

'A tremendous amount of work'

That’s when she quickly ran into the first roadblock.

“Part of the journey was securing a location. In Fort Pierre — a very small community — our first location we had secured, and we thought we were off and running, was too close to a daycare. One-hundred and fifty feet too close to a day care, and they would not sign a waiver,” Warne said.

Warne said the city of Fort Pierre has been very helpful with her applications. However, she said the process has been daunting.

“To say the least. If I had known that I’d have 60 pounds of paper on my desk — that’s research paper, plans, all of my standard operating procedures. All of that combined and all the hoops we’ve had to go through. Would I have done it yet?" Warne said. "Yes.”

"I started to cry. It was just that powerful to watch."
Vicki Warne, registered nurse, after watching CBD's calming effects on a Parkinson's patient

Those hoops were created by design.

Melissa Mentele is a partner in 605 Cannabis, a dispensary that grows and produces cannabis products. It is licensed in Lincoln County.

Mentele backed the ballot measure that created the medical marijuana program in the state. She said the requirements are detailed.

“You have to be very thorough, also. It is a tremendous amount of work, but the reward is great," Mentele said. "It’s getting to see this process we helped pass in the state in action. And I don’t think a lot of people get to do that.”

Mentele said it is interesting participating in a law that she helped pass. She said it was written in a way that would encourage the right people to get involved.

“South Dakota isn’t California, it’s not Colorado, it’s not Washington. We sit in the middle of the United States. We’re a different breed of people and we need a different kind of program,” Mentele said. “IM 26 was designed to make a safe and thorough program for patients and the people that are going to operate under it.”

40 bills this session

But Initiated Measure 26, the law that legalized medical marijuana, is not set in stone. There are more than 40 bills designed to make changes to how the state regulates its new medical cannabis program. Most of those bills come from a committee that spent time last year carefully considering all the details.

Republican state Sen. Bryan Breitling, from Miller, said the summer study was proactive in identifying the topics to address. The goal is to use legislative fixes that respect the cannabis industry, law enforcement and health care.

“I think we’ve been successful at detailing out the specific areas that are important to the legislators with respect to the safety for the state of South Dakota—making sure this industry gets started safely and effectively," Breitling said. "With that, a majority of them have passed and have been successful.”

Most of those bills now head to the House. The two chambers do disagree on whether to allow home cultivation of medical marijuana plants.

Changes to the medical marijuana program won’t deter Vicki Warne from opening her dispensary in Fort Pierre.

“I get very emotional about this because I see my patients all the time who struggle. They can’t take opioids. They don’t want to take opioids. They are hurting," Warne said. "They need relief. So, it just adds fuel to my fire to continue this process.”

Warne is waiting for approval from the state before she takes the next step with her dispensary business.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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