Noem standing her ground against hemp in SD

PIERRE, S.D. -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its interim rule on industrial hemp production, but it hasn't changed Gov. Kristi Noem's mind about allowing the crop to be grown in South Dakota. In a statement on the USDA hemp gui...

PIERRE, S.D. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its interim rule on industrial hemp production, but it hasn't changed Gov. Kristi Noem's mind about allowing the crop to be grown in South Dakota.

In a statement on the USDA hemp guidelines on Tuesday, Nov. 5, Noem said her position on legalizing industrial hemp has not changed.

"I remain opposed to industrial hemp in South Dakota because of the impact it will have on public safety and law enforcement's ability to enforce drug laws," she says.

She adds that she'll continue to make the case that legalizing hemp will legalize marijuana by default.

The federal U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program comes as welcome news to many farmers who are looking for new economic opportunities to diversify, as traditional crops such as corn and soybeans have not been as profitable in recent years. To date, 47 states have passed legislation and developed hemp plans to submit to USDA for approval. However, farmers in South Dakota are still waiting.


Noem acknowledged the guidelines do require the state to permit interstate transportation of hemp, and her team is working to make sure proper procedures are in place so it doesn't weaken existing drug laws.

Noem says lawmakers need to realize the state is not equipped to do enforcement, and she makes the case that legalizing hemp will legalize marijuana by default.

"How are my law enforcement officers going to be able to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana? Because right now there is no way to tell the difference," she says.

She says other states that have moved ahead with industrial hemp programs are throwing out marijuana cases as law enforcement can't tell the difference between marijuana and hemp. She says they're not prosecuting marijuana cases anymore and she will be forced to do the same.

"So, if we move ahead with industrial hemp, to be honest and to be factual and palms up with everybody in this state, you will be legalizing marijuana because I don't have the tools to tell the difference. And I don't think that's good for our state," she says.

During the 2019 legislative session South Dakota lawmakers passed a bill that would legalize industrial hemp production. However, it was vetoed by Noem as she said the state was not ready for the crop. While the House overrode the governor's veto, it failed in the Senate by just a few votes.

State lawmakers say they will revisit the hemp legislation in the 2020 session. Platte, S.D., farmer and House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Republican, says the House was in favor of the proposal to help farmers diversify.

"I have never had so many questions on an issue since I've been in the Legislature as what I had on hemp and people are just, they're excited about it. Yeah, there's some concerns, but I believe we can address all those concerns and make it work for everybody," he says.


Qualm says in the last few months, lawmakers on the South Dakota Legislature's Industrial Hemp Study Committee, which he chairs, have been doing their homework on hemp production and the industry. They made a trip to Kentucky to visit with officials about their program, as they've been growing industrial hemp since 2014. They've also talked to lawmakers in Montana and North Dakota.

"I think we've learned a lot. I was disappointed we didn't get it passed last year. It certainly wasn't the end of the world. I think we'll probably be able to make some better decisions now since we waited," he says.

Noem warns legislators against legalizing hemp production.

"Those legislators need to get real about the facts," she says. "We're going to need about $10 million just to start the program. I don't know where they're going to get that in this revenue year. It's been a tough year."

However, Qualm says the governor's figures are exaggerated.

"I don't believe that. I just don't see that. Anything that I'm hearing is not even close to those dollar figures. We've got some ideas. Obviously, there will probably have to be some money, but I think $10 million it's just too much," he says.

South Dakota Farmers Union lobbyist Mitch Richter says the federal rules on hemp are a good first step but may not be enough to alleviate all of Noem's objections. He says they agree with the governor that hemp is not as important as soybeans and corn in the state, but farmers should still have the option to grow it.

"It would give our producers another opportunity to maybe put some money in their pocket and it looks like the next couple of years that will be important to South Dakota," he says.


Plus, Richter says, there are other businesses that are waiting for the green light on hemp.

"There are manufacturers ready to set up shop in South Dakota and take the raw product and manufacture it either for the seed, fiber or the CBD oil," he says.

Richter says the Industrial Hemp Study Committee will be meeting to talk about how the federal rules will affect the legislation they are offering in January. He says since the state still must submit a plan to USDA, the goal is to get a bill passed very early in the session.

"I would think we should be able to get it passed and move on," he says.

Qualm is confident they can override another veto by the governor.

"I think the Legislature will move forward," he says.

He says they had enough votes in the House last year to win by a substantial margin and he's also optimistic about having enough votes in the Senate.

"The Senate, I know there's some people that have changed their mind and so we'll see. I believe that we will have enough," he says.

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