Four months after Noem's veto, SD legislators discuss 2020 hemp legalization possibilities

Sarah Mearhoff
Farm Forum Capitol Correspondent

PIERRE — Two floors above Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s office in the Capitol, where four months ago she vetoed a bill that would have legalized hemp production in the state, legislators were given goody bags containing vials of CBD oil as they discussed potential hemp legislation for next year.

July 11 marked the first meeting of legislators tasked with studying the logistics of legalizing hemp growth and production come the 2020 legislative session. With Noem’s veto of House Bill 1191 on March 11, South Dakota is among the last states in the country to legalize the crop, which is related to but not the same as marijuana, and has no psychoactive effects when ingested due to low THC content.

With Kentucky being among the first in the country to pilot hemp production in 2014, the state’s Department of Agriculture and State Police, as well as a CBD oil producer and an attorney specializing in hemp law, testified July 11 about what hemp legalization has looked like in the Bluegrass State.

Overall, the testifiers said the state has seen regulatory and enforcement hiccups — like drug sniffing dogs hitting on hemp, similarly to marijuana — but the state has been able to resolve them, and technologies aiding in enforcement are improving.

“Nobody painted a rosy picture here (July 11),” said HB 1191 prime sponsor Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade. “There will always be bumps in the road. That’s the blessing we have, is that maybe some of those bumps and valleys and hills we don’t have to climb through because they already have for us.”

Steve Bevan, president and executive chairman of the Kentucky-based CBD producing company GenCanna, attempted to soothe anxieties about hemp legalization being a gateway to marijuana growth, insisting that certified hemp growers are “not interested in noncompliance” with regulations, or masquerading marijuana plants as hemp.

And regarding safety regulations, Bevan said though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet issued an official ruling on CBD oil, they could pull CBD products from shelves anytime, but they haven’t.

Referring to previous recalls of contaminated romaine lettuce, Bevan said, “You couldn’t get a Caesar salad for about six weeks in the country. That hasn’t happened with CBD.”

CBD oil is but one byproduct of the hemp plant, which is extracted and believed by some to alleviate chronic pain and aid symptoms of conditions like epilepsy. Hemp can also be used for its fibers, which can be made into food products and proteins, clothing and more.

For now though, House Majority Leader and chair of the study Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said producers have to “follow the money,” and CBD oil is where profits are to be made.

“As the other uses become viable, we’ll see it move into that. The CBD is where you start,” he said.

“There will be a seed industry, a protein industry. That will come into play.”

Of the study’s 11 members, all but one — Vice Chair Sen. Rocky Blare, R-Ideal — voted in favor of HB 1191 during the 2019 session.