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Veto of industrial hemp bill hasn’t ended discussion

Industrial hemp produces a dense stand of plants. The seeds are harvested and can be used for oil products. The fiber of the plant stalks is currently not harvested in North Dakota. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service 1 / 2
Minnesota Department of Agriculture/ Many industrial hemp farmers in Minnesota have found that conventional equipment can be used to harvest hemp. Here a producer uses a combine with a soybean head attached to harvest the hemp seeds.2 / 2

After a legislative session riddled with disagreement on the issue, the state Senate's failure to override Gov. Kristi Noem's veto on Tuesday pushed the possibility of legalizing industrial hemp back until at least next year.

Most of the area's legislators were in favor of H.B. 1191, and all but one of the legislators who represent districts in The Daily Republic's coverage area voted consistently for the bill's passage throughout the session.

Meanwhile, freshman Sen. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal, was one of the 13 senators statewide who voted against the veto override, and he has consistently voted against the bill.

"There's a lot of people that think that I'm wrong — and maybe I am — that we're probably going to be late to the game and not get this done, and it's going to hinder our farmers' processes and economic development in the state," Blare told The Daily Republic in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "I heard a lot of people that had concerns about it, and I've heard people call me every name in the book for not doing it."

Blare, a member of the Senate Agriculture and Resources Committee, said he's not opposed to considering future bills legalizing hemp, but that several factors kept him from supporting the bill that was under consideration this year.

While he said he shared Noem's concern that legalizing hemp could lead to legalizing marijuana and was wary of the $1.2 million the Legislative Research Council said the bill would cost the state, his primary concerns were those outlined in a presentation by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety that he said indicated legalizing hemp would lead to testing issues for law enforcement.

"The state's attorney, attorney general, Department of Health were all against it, which are all big in my mind, so I'm not going to second guess or question their thoughts and their concerns about it," Blare said. "They'll never be 100 percent, but they understand that we want this to come in and (be done) legally, and we want to support our farmers and their ability to do this."

However, Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, doesn't think the issue of law enforcement potentially not being able to discern hemp from marijuana immediately was pressing enough to justify voting against the bill.

"Cocaine and some of these other refined drugs are a white, powdery substance," Nelson said. "Are we supposed to outlaw flour? Are we supposed to outlaw sugar, salt, because you can't tell from the naked eye whether that's the illegal item? It's ridiculous that we expended so much effort to try and keep a legal substance illegal because of the excuse that it's difficult for law enforcement to tell it from its illegal cousin."

Like others who advocated for the hemp bill throughout this year's legislative session, Nelson said that being able to grow hemp would have had significant economic benefits for farmers in his district and across the state who are struggling with the markets for other crops.

Nelson also questioned Noem's stance on hemp, saying that she supported the legalization as part of the recently passed federal farm bill but not as a proposal for South Dakota.

During a media call Wednesday afternoon, Noem said that asserting she's taken opposing stances on hemp with the two bills is an inaccurate twisting of her words. She said the farm bill did not endorse or mandate the legalization of industrial hemp, but that she had supported its inclusion of a provision that allowed states to determine whether they would allow it.

"I fully support the fact that South Dakota should have been having this debate, and the fact that we did was entirely appropriate," Noem said. "I know that many of the proponents of the hemp bill were twisting that and making it into something that wasn't true."

Noem said she asked legislators to wait to legalize industrial hemp until a point where USDA and FDA guidelines across the country were laid out and included regulations for CBD oil, which became a larger part of the bill as it made its way through the legislature.

"We do not have testing kits that we can utilize. We do not have room in our state lab to house the equipment we would need to purchase to handle this," Noem said. "We have seen other states that are being sued because they haven't conducted enforcement adequately, and it opens up a whole new realm of consequences that I just believe we can't take a risk in the state of South Dakota."

Nelson, meanwhile, feels that Noem, along with those who voted against overriding her veto of H.B. 1191, are making hollow excuses. He also said allowing farmers to grow hemp in South Dakota is not a new concept.

"During WWII, South Dakota and other states had massive hemp crops," he said. "Basically, what we're trying to do is get South Dakota back to its roots. Industrial hemp was grown by our founding fathers. It just does not make a lot of sense for these people who claim to be limited-government conservative Republicans to say that we need more government to keep people from growing illegal products."