How can such a small word cause such polarizing opinions?
South Dakotans are currently in the throes of a debate on whether the state should make industrial hemp legal.
A bill to do just that was vetoed by Gov. Kristi Noem during the last session of the South Dakota Legislature.
Since that veto, the Industrial Hemp Study Committee – an interim committee of the Legislature – has been busy studying the matter at length.
Here is the committee’s charge:
To study the regulation and cost of implementing an industrial hemp program.
To determine what the economic impacts of the production and sale of industrial hemp would be;
To find out the potential costs or challenges for law enforcement;
And, to study requirements for registration, licenses, and permits; as well as seed certification and access.
Hemp, the lesser-known cousin of marijuana, is also in the cannabis sativa family, one of three main subtypes of the cannabis plant.
Unlike marijuana, hemp is a non-intoxicating crop that contains less than 1% of the psychoactive substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which gives marijuana users a high.
Hemp fiber can be used to make fabrics and textiles, rope and paper. Hemp seeds and flowers are often used for health foods and organic body care including the controversial CBD oil.
The 2018 Farm Bill changed federal policy regarding industrial hemp, including the removal of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and the consideration of hemp as an agricultural product. But, the feds are still in the process of working toward developing regulations to implement the 2018 Farm Bill provisions.
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, only South Dakota, Idaho, and Mississippi do not allow cultivation of hemp in their states.
Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee of the 2019 Legislature and Butte County rancher, was a co-sponsor on the original bill to legalize the growth, production, and processing of industrial hemp and derivative products in the state.
He said during last year’s session that if South Dakota didn’t act, it would be left behind in the hemp production race.
Researchers say that hemp will grow on most any type of ground, including lesser quality and more alkaline soils.
“All I can think of is Butte County. This would be a perfect place for hemp to grow,” he said during a crackerbarrel at Newell last winter.
Gov. Noem wrote in a newspaper column this fall that, as a farmer and rancher, she would be thrilled to get a new crop into the hands of the state’s producers, especially as ag markets struggle.
“A new source of revenue for farmers would be great. But industrial hemp is not the answer,” she said.
Legalizing industrial hemp legalizes marijuana by default, she said.
Here’s Noem’s justification — legalizing industrial hemp weakens drug laws. It hurts law enforcement. It’s a step backward. South Dakota already faces a drug problem. Families continue to be ripped apart by substance abuse.
“South Dakota must lead by example. We cannot rush into legalizing industrial hemp without knowing the cost we will pay. The safety and health of the next generation is not worth the gamble,” she said.
As we have done so many times on other issues, there needs to be a period of give-and-take on the part of the legislators and the governor. Legislation will surely be introduced during the 2020 South Dakota Legislative Session.
Hopefully the federal government will have regulations in place by then on which the state can base their laws.
We believe the state should proceed with caution and weigh the benefits to an ailing farm economy when it comes to legalizing the growth, production and processing of industrial hemp in South Dakota.
Black Hills Pioneer,
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