After being outspoken in her opposition to a hemp cultivation program in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem is changing her tune.
In her State of the State Address on Jan. 14, which kicked off South Dakota’s 2020 legislative session, Noem said she was willing to pass a bill that would legalize the cultivation and transportation of hemp in the state “in the interest of being proactive.”
“Given all that we need to accomplish this year, if this is going to get done, my hope is that we can do it in the coming days so that we can focus on other priorities,” Noem said to the state’s 105 legislators during the speech.
Her backpedaling, however, comes with conditions. In order to sign the legislation, Noem says it needs to include four main criteria: enforcement guidelines, “responsible” industry regulation, transportation requirements and a plan to pay for it.
State legislators attempted to pass a bill in 2019 that would legalize the crop. That bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Noem.
“I know many of you believe industrial hemp has a promising future, and over the last year, we have had a very long conversation about legalizing hemp. Everybody here knows that I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Noem said during her speech. “Last year, I vetoed a bill that didn’t address concerns about public safety, law enforcement or funding. I asked that we wait until we received direction from the federal government and a plan to address those concerns. Now, since that time, things have changed.”
The governor cites The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) recent approval of the first round of tribal hemp production plans, one of which includes the Flandreau Santee Sioux in South Dakota, as one of her motivations for moving ahead with state regulations. She says the USDA’s recent publication of its interim final rule on hemp has also been a factor.
Noem says her opposition to hemp cultivation stemmed from concerns over enforcement and existing drug abuse issues in the state.
“I think we can all agree that we do not want to stress our already thin law enforcement resources. I also think we’re all in agreement that we don’t want to negatively impact our drug-fighting efforts across the state, and given that so many of our families are being ripped apart by substance abuse, I know none of us wants to take a step backwards as we address those issues,” Noem said during her speech.
In an op-ed published by the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Noem expands on her requirements for an amended bill.
“The moment someone starts growing hemp, they would consent to an inspection and a search. This would all be done without liability to the law enforcement agency, and the actual costs of disposal would be paid by the grower or possessor,” Noem writes. “The bill must prohibit the sale or use of hemp and hemp derivatives for smoking. And it would include an annual, statistical report by the Attorney General to the legislature and me about the impact decriminalization is having on other criminal drug prosecutions.”
South Dakota’s legislative session for the year ends March 30, giving the state just over two months to get a plan in place for approval.
South Dakota is currently just one of three states in the country without a framework in place that allows farmers to legally grow hemp (the other two are Mississippi and Idaho).