If Gov. Kristi Noem’s team could brainstorm 50 additional questions to impede the legalization of industrial hemp, she could create a novelty calendar covering all 365 days.
Question No. 1 for Jan. 1: “What will USDA requirements be for testing protocols?”
No. 236 for Aug. 23: “How long will plants be allowed to be stored?”
No. 315 for Nov. 10: “Do troopers process the tests or are other staff required to complete the process?”
Not that a hemp calendar would sell any better than Noem’s recent list of 315 questions did to a key Republican.
“It wasn’t questions that were really relevant to where we are at,” said House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, explaining why he didn’t pass them along to members of the Industrial Hemp Summer Study.
Legislators seldom deal with this level of granular detail. Bureaucrats do. Lawmakers address the big picture with help from experienced professionals.
And officials from states actually working with hemp programs testified they have encountered no difficulties with hemp implementation, and no blurring of lines between industrial hemp programs and efforts to legalize marijuana. Zero problems raised by officials who have worked with something will always outweigh 315 potential problems from those who have not.
“I’m not trying to encourage or discourage anybody from growing it; I’m just trying to give ‘em the facts,” said Doug Goehring, North Dakota commissioner of agriculture.
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Noem’s main question comes at No. 245 or for calendar date Sept. 1: “How will hemp legalization affect the flow of illegal marijuana into our communities?”
Instead of raising 314 technical straw man arguments, Noem should convincingly answer this one. Her tactic of raising questions barely succeeded at delaying hemp’s approval during the last legislative session.
On Feb. 8, Noem asked lawmakers to shelve hemp legalization efforts, raising questions about enforcement, taxpayer costs and effects on public safety. Both legislative houses overwhelmingly approved legalization anyway.
Noem vetoed the measure on March 11. The House voted 55-11 to override, but a Senate override fell four votes short, with 20 senators voting for and 13 against. It’s likely some of those 13 were more about not embarrassing the newly elected governor. Will they be there next time?
In her veto message, Noem made clear her root objection had little to do with the technicalities of implementation. Normalizing hemp, she believes, is part of a bigger strategy that "supports a national effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use."
It’s not an argument that has swayed conservative lawmakers in any state surrounding South Dakota. Only legislatures in Idaho and Mississippi have stood firm with South Dakota to oppose industrial hemp.
It hasn’t swayed House Minority Whip Oren Lesmeister, who has met with officials from some of the 47 states moving forward.
"The fear industrial hemp is a backway to produce the drug, marijuana, is unwarranted," stated the Parade rancher. "We have also learned farmers can make money from this."
Unless Noem can convincingly argue her main point, that approving hemp will harm communities, she will stand against a rising tide. Further efforts to distract lawmakers by raising questions will almost certainly fail.