Lawmakers move to legalize hemp over governor’s objection

Associated Press file photo

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota lawmakers are writing a bill to legalize industrial hemp in 2020, despite the governor’s stated plan to veto it because law enforcement can’t differentiate between hemp and marijuana.

The legislative Hemp Study Committee is working from a failed 2019 bill, the Argus Leader reported.

The committee met Monday for the first time since early September, when Gov. Kristi Noem wrote a Wall Street Journal column saying she would veto the legislation.

Noem said that Texas prosecutors have dropped marijuana cases after its hemp law went into effect, but Rep. Lee Qualm of Platte handed out a document from Texas’ top officials invalidating her claim.

The 2019 hemp bill could have passed if it hadn’t included CBD oil, Qualm said. He was initially skeptical of it, but now he knows of too many people who benefit from products containing CBD. CBD can be extracted from marijuana and hemp but does not cause a high and is often sold as a dietary supplement.

Hemp grown for fiber has oil, and the state will suffer a “huge pushback” if legislators leave out CBD, Rep. Oren Lesmeister of Parade said. Legislators must allow citizens to grow it and let federal agencies regulate it, Lesmeister said.

Qualm said the committee will finish the bill after the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases its hemp program guidelines. The 2018 Farm Bill places hemp regulation under the department’s oversight.

The bill would require owner-operators to secure state permits and undergo background checks before they can grow hemp. Possession of hemp without a permit can lead to a felony charge. The bill will also require a minimum number of acres to grow hemp in the state, but the number has not been decided.