PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Leslie St. Clair made a bit of history Monday at the state Capitol.

St. Clair is manager for MMJ Card Clinic, one of the businesses that validate patients as having one or more debilitating conditions that qualify them for medical marijuana.

The Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee had heard complaints about the businesses for several years. She was the first person to speak to the panel.

“First of all, they are not pop-ups. They are outreach clinics,” St. Clair told the group.

She said the clinic charges $175 for a 15-minute visit. According to its Facebook page, the clinic operates semi-regularly in Sioux Falls and Watertown and sometimes goes to other communities. In recent months those have included Rapid City, Pine Ridge, Lake Andes, Brookings, Custer and Hot Springs.

The clinics have been offered in rural areas because many healthcare providers seem reluctant to issue cards and because people can’t be expected to drive three hours to reach a clinic, she said.

South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana in 2020. As of October 23, the state Department of Health reported there were 246 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners approved to provide medical-marijuana certifications and 12,325 approved patients.

MMJ Card Clinic requires that patients bring medical records, but nothing is done hands-on, according to St. Clair. “All we do in our office is validate the already qualifying diagnosis,” she said.

“What’s concerning to me,” responded one of the committee’s members, Francine Arneson, a Sioux Falls physician who specializes in palliative care for cancer patients, “it doesn’t sound like solid medical care.”

State law requires that a patient and provider have a bona-fide professional relationship that includes an appropriate in-person examination, and that the provider certify that the patient has a qualifying condition. The state department then decides whether to issue a registry card.

St. Clair said that MMJ Card Clinic had been offering a BOGO — buy one, get one — deal for patients but no longer does. “In the beginning, nobody had any rules,” she said. “Since then, our management has changed.”

Republican Rep. Roger DeGroot called pop-up clinics “the gorilla in the room,” noting that the department was fielding requests at a more rapid pace than expected, while committee member Kristi Palmer, whose service in the South Dakota National Guard included two decades delivering anti-drug presentations to students, questioned why pop-up clinics should be allowed. “They need to have a provider who knows their history,” she said.

Republican Sen. Erin Tobin, a nurse practitioner who chairs the panel, suggested several possible steps, including restricting the number of patients that a provider could see in a day. She said that could help limit the effect of pop-up clinics.

But Jeremiah Murphy, a lobbyist from Rapid City representing the Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota, didn’t like that idea. “Satellite clinics, part of that is market-driven,” he said. He spoke of his experience regarding a carpal tunnel problem that was quickly addressed by a specialist. “I think we want to be careful of judging the time of appointment.”