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South Dakota farmers one step closer to legally growing hemp after legislative committee vote

PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota farmers are one step closer to legally growing hemp after a Thursday, Feb. 7, committee hearing.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee on Thursday unanimously voted to pass House Bill 1191, which would legalize the growth, production and processing of hemp in the state. The bill comes after hemp production was legalized on the national level by Congress’s Farm Bill in December.

Hemp is a crop related to, but distinct from, the still-illicit cannabis, and does not have psychoactive properties or result in a “high” if ingested. It can be used to make food products, cosmetics, fabric and more.

According to definitions in the 2018 Farm Bill and HB 1191, hemp must contain less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.

HB 1191’s prime sponsor and Democratic Minority Whip Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said to committee members Thursday that hemp is unlikely to “save the family farm,” but said it could be an economic driver for the state and “another tool in the toolbox for farmers” for a profitable crop that could aid in crop rotation.

Under HB 1191, farmers would have to apply for a special permit in order to grow the crop, despite its non-classification as a controlled substance or drug. Farmers would pay $350 for their license, as well as for federal background checks required under the bill.

Applicants convicted of a felony drug offense at the state or federal level within the past 10 years would be denied a license. In South Dakota, ingestion of marijuana is a felony offense.

The bill was supported by local farmers, the Sierra Club, the South Dakota Sheriff’s Association, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and more. But the state’s Department of Public Safety opposed it, saying it left unanswered questions about how the crop would be transported throughout the state, as well as about cannabidiol, or CBD oil, a substance which can be derived from either hemp or cannabis and used for homeopathic or therapeutic purposes.

Lesmeister in response proposed that those transporting hemp could be issued permits to do so, similar to those issued for transporting livestock. The Department of Agriculture would have the latitude to implement such rules under HB 1191. The bill also does not challenge the authority of the Food and Drug Administration to make rules regarding hemp.

Following the committee’s unanimous 13-0 vote, the bill now heads to the House floor for a vote.