Gov. Kristi Noem failed South Dakota farmers when she vetoed the industrial hemp bill passed by the Legislature.
She, of course, had some help from the Senate, which failed to override the veto. But she bears the bulk of the responsibility.
At a time when farmers are struggling and commodity prices are low for both crops and livestock, she pumped the brakes on what could be a new crop in South Dakota, even if it probably won’t ever rival corn and soybeans.
The real kicker that is she has a farm background.
Don’t forget that while a member of Congress, she voted for the Farm Bill that removed industrial hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.
She also championed her support of the Farm Bill while campaigning for governor.
In Washington, we realize, compromises have to be made. It’s likely no representative or senator who voted in favor of the Farm Bill liked everything the massive measure included.
But it’s unlikely any other member of the last session of Congress became governor and vetoed a bill that would have cleared the way for growing a crop allowed in the Farm Bill.
No compromises are necessary in Pierre, or course, where the Republicans rule the roost. It’s a safe bet that Noem was confident the GOP would see that her first veto wasn’t overridden.
Industrial hemp will certainly return as a topic in Pierre. It will likely have a prime sponsor who’s a Republican (not a Democrat, which was the case this year) with some details cleaned up and assurances in place that it won’t offend anybody’s delicate sensibilities.
In a letter to the Legislature detailing her concerns, Noem lamented how industrial hemp could pose problems for law officers who might struggle to tell the difference between it and its distant cousin, marijuana, which is illegal in South Dakota.
And she expresses concern that U.S. Department of Agriculture rules concerning industrial hemp won’t be released until later this year.
But it seems unlikely that any industrial hemp would have been grown in South Dakota this year anyhow.
And then there’s this:
“Finally, I am concerned that this bill supports a national effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use. I do not doubt the motives of this bill’s legislative champions. However, an overwhelming number of contacts I have received in favor of this bill come from pro-marijuana activists. There is no question in my mind that normalizing hemp, like legalizing medical marijuana, is part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable.”
Doubtless, those who want to legalize marijuana are in favor of industrialized hemp. That’s a given.
But to make the jump that allowing industrialized hemp will lead to the recreational use of marijuana being legalized in South Dakota is a stretch. That will only happen when and if the state’s citizens vote to allow it. If that happens years from now, it will be the result of majority rule, nothing more. It won’t be because somebody wants to grow hemp to manufacture oils or clothing or pet bedding or anything else.
Some see industrial hemp as a viable, more eco-friendly replacement (or at least a greener version) for environment-damaging plastics. Hemp, which has been around and in use for decades, has thousands — one estimate is 50,000 — of uses.
Some see as the next billion-dollar idea in farm country.
One of the problems with South Dakota saying no to hemp, at least for now, is that it is an emerging industry. And these days, industry moves at a lightning pace.
Plans for hemp processing and manufacturing plants not only are being dreamed of and discussed, they are being put together. Noem’s veto likely has excluded South Dakota from such conversations.
How much economic damage and how many jobs will this veto cost us? None? A little? A lot? We will never know, but we think we shouldn’t have risked that loss.
Perhaps very few South Dakota farmers will ever even try to plant hemp. And perhaps the transition would have come with some challenges for government officials, law enforcement and others. We’ll probably find out eventually.
But until then, farmers in this state won’t be able to tap into a market that could help them dig out of considerable financial woes. That’s both penny and pound foolish.
Noem’s concerns about industrial hemp seem overblown. And her philosophy on the issue seems to buck that of most of the ag community and, indeed, most members of her own party.
South Dakota falls behind again. This time our farmers pay the price.