Gov. Noem outlines ‘guardrails’ she wants for legalizing industrial hemp

South Dakota News

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s fight over industrial hemp might soon be over.

Governor Kristi Noem said she won’t use her veto this year to stop legalization a second time, provided the Legislature stays within what she described as “guardrails.”

Noem said she recently spoke with three lawmakers who have potentially key roles on the issue — House Republican leader Lee Qualm, Democratic Representative Oren Lesmeister and Senate Republican leader Kris Langer — and they were receptive to her offer.

The governor said she would send information to all 105 legislators Thursday morning.

“I wanted to just be really palms-up with the Legislature,” Noem said. “I still don’t think this is a great idea for South Dakota, but I know they are looking for a solution.” 

Lesmeister, a rancher from Parade, was prime sponsor of the 2019 bill that had overwhelming support in the House of Representatives.

Qualm, a rancher from Platte and a co-sponsor of Lesmeister’s bill, chaired a committee after the 2019 session that developed a more-detailed version for the 2020 session that opens Tuesday.

Langer, a realtor from Dell Rapids, stood with Noem on the other side of the fence last year and helped the governor withstand the Senate’s attempt to override the veto.

Noem repeatedly warned lawmakers last year that industrial hemp would be a gateway to legalizing marijuana in South Dakota.

Two marijuana measures — one an initiative, the other a constitutional amendment — have since qualified for South Dakota’s November ballot.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe meanwhile recently received federal approval for industrial hemp on its land in South Dakota.

Several other tribal governments that share South Dakota’s geography also want U.S. Department of Agriculture clearance.

Congress approved industrial hemp as part of the 2018 federal Farm Bill.

South Dakota’s then-members of Congress — Senator John Thune, Senator Mike Rounds and then-Representative Noem — all voted for the federal legislation that President Trump signed into law.

The 2020 version of the South Dakota legislation would again prohibit hemp with more than 0.3 percent THC, as the federal rule requires, but it would allow for processing into CBD oil and other derivatives.

Noem said her plan calls for the state Department of Public Safety to conduct inspections and the state Department of Agriculture to oversee licensing and regulations.

Noem doesn’t want to allow people to smoke industrial hemp. She wants the state attorney general office to collect statistics that can be used for evaluations.

Noem said the Legislature’s study committee did a good job in drafting the 2020 legislation and supports the minimum plot size of five acres.

She wants people transporting industrial hemp to be required to have permits in the vehicles.

The costs of regulation must be self-supporting through fees, Noem said.

“I just want to make sure we’re doing the responsible thing and paying for this program as it goes forward,” she said.

Langer said she hasn’t decided how to vote. “Everything she (the governor) set out made sense to me,” Langer said.

There’s also a concern for Langer about funding in a tight budget year: “It still needs to go before appropriations. There’s still some unknowns.” 

Qualm plans to carry the committee’s bill. His conversation with the governor Wednesday was “great,” he said.

“I’m in total agreement with the guardrails,” Qualm said Wednesday night. “I’m just really glad the governor was open to taking a look at what we had done.” 

Lesmeister said his conversation with the governor Wednesday was “awesome.” He didn’t object to her proposed fees because the money will mean several state departments will be able to address some shortfalls in staffing and capabilities.

“If it takes hemp to do this, I think it’s a win-win-win for South Dakota,” Lesmeister said Wednesday night. “However we got to do it, I’ll go to bat for it.” 

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