PIERRE | Gov. Kristi Noem administration officials warned South Dakota lawmakers on Monday of the implications of legalizing industrial hemp while officials running pilot programs in Montana and North Dakota said their efforts had gone off without a hitch.
As legislators met for an Industrial Hemp Summer Study meeting, they got a strong message from Noem and officials in her Cabinet who sent hundreds of questions they said should be answered as they move forward.
Growing industrial hemp became legal under state pilot programs as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. In 2018, the federal farm bill legalized growing hemp for commercial purposes, but despite several efforts to pass legislation allowing an industrial hemp program in South Dakota, the efforts have come up short in Pierre.
Noem administration officials remain skeptical about legalizing industrial hemp. Ahead of the hearing, they submitted hundreds of questions to lawmakers that she asked them to consider.
“Hemp is not just an agriculture issue — it is a public safety issue; it is a health issue,” South Dakota Agriculture Secretary Kim Vanneman told the panel. “There is much that we still do not know."
Lawmakers raised questions of their own and urged the administration to move forward.
“I understand there’s some issues here, but I feel like we’re making this way more difficult than it needs to be,” House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said. Qualm also chairs the study.
Qualm, a farmer, has long supported the industrial hemp proposal and on Monday expressed disappointment with the administration's extensive questions about the proposal.
“I’m not happy with the questions,” he said. “I'll put it that way."
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Lawmakers, farmers and others said the state needs to move quickly to develop a licensing and testing infrastructure or Native American tribes or other groups would move forward without the state's help or approval. And those transporting hemp to surrounding states that allow industrial hemp could be subject to legal actions.
“The tribes aren’t going to wait for you all,” Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe said. “They’re going to try to get a jump on things.”
Also Monday, the Minnesota Hemp Association called on the federal government to set clearer guidance for drivers transporting hemp, citing a driver who'd been pulled over and charged with possession of marijuana last month when he was hauling hemp through South Dakota.
“A Minnesota Hemp Association member expected a shipment of legally grown hemp," Joe Radinovich, executive director of the association, said. "Instead, their driver was arrested and their hemp was confiscated in a state that isn’t complying with the farm bill and allowing hemp to be transported.”
Craig Price, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, said the driver was transporting hemp from Colorado to Minnesota and was pulled over when a trooper smelled raw marijuana. The driver said he'd sampled the product and it tested positive with THC. He said he couldn't release additional details about the case as an investigation is pending.
Officials in North Dakota and Montana, meanwhile, testified Monday that they’ve not run into issues with growers in the program abusing it to grow marijuana. And they said medical marijuana programs in each state have remained separate from industrial hemp programs.
“I’m not trying to encourage or discourage anybody from growing it; I’m just trying to give ‘em the facts,” Doug Goehring, North Dakota commissioner of agriculture, said. “It is not going to save the farm, but it is another commodity, it’s another crop in rotation.”
In states that have approved the production of hemp, the hemp seeds and grains can be used to produce food, the stalk can be used to make rope and textiles, and female flowers of the plant can be used to make cannabidiol or CBD, an extract used to address various health issues. The FDA does not recognize these products but several vendors sell them.