Senate Panel Passes Hemp Bill Despite Big Pressure from Noem
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota Senate panel approved a bill Thursday that would make it legal to grow industrial hemp, despite the governor's assertion that the state isn't ready yet.
The Senate agriculture committee voted 7-2 to send the bill to the floor. If approved by the full chamber without any changes, the measure would go to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who has asked lawmakers not pass such a bill this year.
Several administration officials urged the committee to oppose the measure during the hearing, which included a Highway Patrol official showing members evidence bags of hemp and marijuana and a video of a drug detection dog flagging both to illustrate the difficulty of distinguishing between them.
Craig Price, the Department of Public Safety secretary, said the hemp and marijuana look alike and pointed out that they are both forms of cannabis. Only marijuana could produce a high. He said officials believe allowing hemp cultivation would come with a multi-million dollar price tag and lead to another push to legalize marijuana in South Dakota. Industrial hemp would extend law enforcement resources even further and hurt current drug-fighting efforts, he said.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister, said it would allow South Dakota farmers and ranchers to keep up with the demand and the expansion of the industrial hemp industry.
"With ag being our No. 1 industry in the state, let's give the people who choose to do so the chance to plant and grow and process it," he said.
The hearing was scheduled for earlier this month but the governor's office sought a delay so that more information, including a fiscal analysis, could be put together for lawmakers. Price estimated that the measure could require his agency to spend more than $5 million on evidence storage, personnel, portable testing kits, possibly replacing detection dogs and a media campaign.
Noem twice asked legislators to set aside the legislation this session, though she hasn't threatened to veto it. The House voted 65-2 in favor of the bill just days after she first asked.
The governor was traveling Thursday for events in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden watched the hearing in the Capitol committee chamber.
The 2018 federal farm bill legalized industrial hemp cultivation. Supporters say there's an industry ready in South Dakota to start processing hemp products. They anticipate that hemp planting wouldn't happen until 2020 under the bill.
The proposal defines industrial hemp as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. The measure would require prospective growers to get a Department of Agriculture license and pass state and federal background checks.
Applicants who have been convicted of a felony drug crime in the previous 10 years would be disqualified. The bill would allow Agriculture Department employees to enter areas where hemp is grown, stored and processed to take samples and perform inspections.
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