Guest column: We need to find a way to make industrial hemp work

Oren L. Lesmeister
District 28A State Representative

I drove home from the State Fair after attending the industrial hemp panel put on by the South Dakota Farmers Union, and I started to go over the past three to four years of the same old argument on why South Dakota should wait and not legalize industrial hemp. As I think about this topic, I realize that most of us have not heard one new argument from opponents, yet we proponents have answered almost every single question that has been brought forward to date.

And still we have not once heard them bring forward an idea to solve their problems or answer their questions — are they not looking for solutions or answers?

The questions cover a variety of topics:

  • Roadside testing.
  • The cost is too much to train South Dakota officers in the difference between hemp and marijuana.
  • THC testing is so slow that it would tie up our state drug lab for years on trying legal cases in South Dakota.
  • Our drug dogs will have to be replaced.

As I kept driving, I found myself going over the industrial hemp panel discussion from Dakotafest in Mitchell and the one at the State Fair again and also the numerous hemp tours that I — and recently others — have attended. I even thought about the past couple summer study committee hearings we have had where our department heads and department heads from other states have testified on this subject.

Then some things struck me that made me very upset.

First, one of the arguments has been we cannot justify or fund the cost of training officers and take them away from their other duties to support an industrial hemp program. But, Public Safety Secretary Craig Price just stated in Huron that they are in the process of training our officers to be able to tell the difference between the two.

Does that mean South Dakota will not train officers to know the difference between the two plants for the citizens of South Dakota to participate in an industrial hemp program, but will train our officers because other states have hemp programs? Are the South Dakota taxpayers still paying for this, or are other states paying for the training of our officers since we are still in the wait mode?

Second, will we have to replace all the drug dogs?

No, we will not. People need to understand that drug dogs are trained to detect multiple drug odors.

Drug dogs will hit on industrial hemp as with marijuana and other drugs. That is great. That is what they are trained to do. And they will still hit on cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and any other drug they are trained to.

I’ve spoken to dog handlers and trainers, and if the dogs do find industrial hemp, they will still be rewarded as before even if it is hemp, and if an officer comes across this issue we will have everything we can put in place in a program for them to use right there on the spot to find out whether it’s industrial hemp being transported legally or an illegal substance. Other states are doing this and have been doing this for a few years now.

Third, will testing facilities be tied up?

I stated during the panel discussion that we need to purchase at least two more testing machines for law enforcement — whether or not we have an industrial hemp program — and I mean that! I will make that proposal next year during session. Why? Because we have been told now for a few years that it is taking months if not longer to get tests results back for court cases. That is not acceptable, and our coat closet drug locker needs to be bigger, too.

So these problems need to be solved whether we have industrial hemp or not. These machines are expensive, but I feel they are well worth the cost to help our law enforcement personnel keep doing the excellent job they do.

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture has said it does not have the staff to handle an industrial hemp program. Is agriculture not our No. 1 industry in South Dakota? If so, then they should state that they need more personnel to operate this or ask us for more personnel to implement this program. They should not make the statement that they cannot handle this.

Don’t bury your heads in the sand, this is here to stay.

The department is going to have to deal with this because other states around us are doing it, and the nine tribes within our state will also be growing and/or producing hemp products. Why not reach out to other ag departments in other states and try to find out what they are doing to implement hemp programs.

When asked at our last committee hearing in Pierre, Agriculture Secretary Kim Vanneman said that she had not personally talked to other ag departments about this subject directly. This is a program that, through the Department of Agriculture, will pay for itself by the fees charged to producers and processors.

If we as legislators need to answer all of the 315 questions or micromanage this issue instead of the departments using their ability to propagate rules as we allow them to, then maybe it is time we take back their ability to propagate rules if they are not willing to adapt and work on this issue.

We have heard and seen the thousands of uses and benefits for industrial hemp in our world. Remember every day you are using a product that probably has industrial hemp in it.

At the end of the day, industrial hemp is here to stay. Almost every state and most foreign countries have legalized the production and use of industrial hemp. This is a program that was voted on and approved by then-U.S. Rep. Noem at our national level and since has been signed by President Donald Trump. It has been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Postal Service and Transportation Security Administration, and decriminalized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Heck, you can even receive a water use permit to irrigate your hemp crop.

They are now in the process of writing crop insurance for it, and you can even bank on it.

Think of the new jobs created within our state and the new industry within our state, along with a new crop to put into a rotation for farmers if they so choose. The research and innovative ideas that will come forward to replace things like plastic and styrofoam. Even things within the agriculture field, such as edible net wraps, twine, and bedding. Using it for daily cover in landfills, even brake pads on cars.

The list keeps growing.

Rep. Oren Lesmeister, Parade Guest columnist

This guest editorial has been edited for length in the print edition. Find the full version online at