SD hemp legalization bill sent to Gov. Noem

South Dakota News

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s Legislature on Monday approved a bill that would legalize industrial hemp despite Gov. Kristi Noem’s opposition.

The House voted 58-8 to send the bill to the Republican governor. Noem had requested that lawmakers hold off on legalizing hemp this year, saying questions remain about enforcement, taxpayer costs and effects on public safety.

The bill’s main sponsor, Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister, has said it would allow South Dakota farmers and ranchers to keep up with the demand and the expansion of the hemp industry.

With a 21-14 vote in the Senate, the bill fell short of the two-thirds support it would need to override a potential veto. Although Noem came out against legalizing hemp this year, she has not threatened to veto the measure.

“The governor still has profound concerns about the legislation. She is reviewing the final bill and will make a decision shortly,” Noem spokeswoman Kristin Wileman said in an email.

Noem has said she’s worried that drug detection dogs flag hemp like marijuana and that the plants look alike. Her administration has said allowing hemp cultivation would come with a multi-million dollar price tag and lead to another push to legalize marijuana in South Dakota.

At least 41 states have enacted hemp growing and production programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lesmeister said after the vote that if the bill gets vetoed, one company has said it would likely look elsewhere.

“We’ll be at a huge disadvantage,” he said. “Not only industry, but as far as the farm economy-wise, too. Period.”

Wyoming Republican state Rep. Bunky Loucks, who sponsored a hemp legalization bill signed recently there, told the Rapid City Journal that a veto from Noem would mean less competition for the Wyoming hemp industry.

“Tell her I hope she vetoes it, because that would be good for Wyoming,” he said.

In South Dakota, House lawmakers voted to agree to changes made in the Senate. Lesmeister said the Senate added “close to 90 percent” of a suggested amendment from the governor’s office. The alterations include broader background check requirements, giving more rulemaking authority to state agencies and restricting who could transport industrial hemp. The changes also require hemp to be grown outdoors.

The 2018 federal farm bill legalized cultivation of industrial hemp nationally. Supporters contend planting hemp wouldn’t even happen until 2020 under the South Dakota proposal, which defines industrial hemp as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC.

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