A group of South Dakota legislators are taking a lesson in hemp this summer. Industrial hemp production is the topic of a legislative study committee after Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a measure this spring that would have allowed South Dakota farmers to grow hemp. The committee’s first meeting is July 11 in Pierre.
“We want to hear how other states are dealing with the issue,” said committee member Rep. Randy Gross, R-Elkton.
Gross voted for growing hemp in South Dakota and was in favor of overriding the governor’s veto. Even if farmers didn’t plant a hemp crop this year, he said it would have given producers and processors a head start on setting up a market for hemp.
Fellow committee member Sen. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal, voted against the hemp bill.
“I voted no because I want to make sure we do this right,” he said.
Blare said he wants to be sure farmers are protected financially if their crop fails or if they have no market to sell hemp. He is also concerned about companies truthfully selling hemp products.
“CBD oil has been very beneficial for a lot of people, but there are scammers out there,” he said, referring to the hemp-derived cannabidiol, which is used to ease a variety of health ailments.
Blare was one of four members from the committee, plus an advisor from the governor’s office, that spent half a week in mid-June learning how one state handles hemp. Kentucky is at the forefront of growing hemp and producing products from its fiber and oils, having taken up the new venture soon after a hemp pilot project was approved in the 2014 farm bill.
“I think we’re open minded,” Blare said. “We just want to see what’s been done correctly and what mistakes are made so everybody is satisfied that it’s a win.”
The South Dakota group met with staff from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and one of the state troopers. They addressed Noem’s concerns about hemp creating challenges for law enforcement. In Kentucky, hemp transporters need certified paperwork, which makes for a smooth process when a hauler is questioned by authorities, according to Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade.
Lesmeister was the prime sponsor of the bill the legislature passed in March. Joining him and Blare on the trip were study committee chairman Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, Sen. Joshua Klumb, R-Mount Vernon, and Jason Simmons, policy advisor for Gov. Noem.
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They toured two processing plants that extract CBD oil from hemp. Lesmeister was impressed with the clean, pharmaceutical-grade facilities.
Lesmeister said he is confident that the detractors are going to learn that law enforcement for hemp is not an issue.
“My goal is by fall we have a bill in hand — a bill that everybody can get along with,” he said.
Lesmeister’s bill last session passed the House 58-8 and the Senate 24-14, but the legislature was a few votes shy of overriding Noem’s veto. She voiced concerns about enforcement and views hemp as a gateway to legal marijuana. Another sticking point was a lack of federal guidance on regulating hemp. Those rules are expected within the next month, Blare said.
The 2018 farm bill decriminalized hemp, setting it apart from marijuana and prompting more states to look to hemp as an agricultural product.
Pilot projects are underway in North Dakota and Minnesota. Nebraska and Iowa governors gave their approval this spring. Lesmeister said hemp will be crossing into South Dakota borders weather the governor likes it or not.
“She’s going to have to deal with it here this fall,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of hemp traveling around this nation.”
Noem has also expressed concerns that growing hemp in South Dakota will translate to leniency for marijuana and open the doors to legalizing recreational use like other states have done. Lesmeister said those concerns are unfounded and he does not support recreational marijuana.
“This is not a gateway to marijuana,” he said.
Lesmeister hopes to have a bill by fall that all parties can agree on.