SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Governor Kristi Noem reiterated her opposition Tuesday to legalizing industrial hemp production in South Dakota, even in the face of new federal rules allowing the cash crop.
Hemp is seen as a possible boon by many farmers, but Noem said in a statement that legalizing it is akin to legalizing marijuana because it is difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between the two. But the governor also said South Dakota will allow the crop to be transported across the state in keeping with federal laws. The US Department of Agriculture last week announced new regulations that allow farmers to grow hemp and ship it across state lines.
“I remain opposed to industrial hemp in South Dakota because of the impact it will have on public safety and law enforcement’s ability to enforce drug laws,” Noem said.
South Dakota police arrested a Colorado man in July for carrying large bags of what he claims was hemp in his SUV. A state trooper field-tested the 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of the substance and found it had high levels of THC, the component in marijuana that produces a high
Noem’s opposition to hemp has put her at odds with her own Republican Party in the Legislature. She vetoed a bill to legalize industrial hemp in the spring. Lawmakers supporting hemp production said she is hurting South Dakota farmers.
“There’s no way legalized hemp has anything to do in my mind with the legalization of marijuana. They are two distinct crops,” said Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Platte Republican.
Randy Stratton, an agriculture consultant who helps small farms develop specialty crops said small farms could benefit from a specialty crop like hemp, but the state’s prohibition is holding them back from entering an emerging market.
“South Dakota is always the last on everything. If you look at our economic growth, it’s anemic,” Stratton said.
Other farmers disagreed, saying they were fine with the way things are because the risk of entering the new hemp market is not worth it. Scott VanderWal, the president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, said the hemp market may already be saturated.
Farmers across the country are considering the new cash crop. Hemp is turned into products such as CBD oil and nutritional supplements. The 2018 farm bill removed hemp as a controlled substance if it contains less than 0.3 percent of THC. The US Food and Drug Administration still regulates and approves hemp products.
But the new rules have also left officials trying to figure out how to regulate the products. Vaping products that claim to contain CBD but are actually spiked with synthetic marijuana have sent dozens of people to emergency rooms, an Associated Press investigation found.
Michael Weiner, a lawyer who specializes in hemp regulation, said that concerns about vaping led the FDA to slow approval of new CBD products.
Noem argued that it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the technology that measures levels of THC and distinguishes between hemp and marijuana.
But with South Dakota’s highways now open to industrial hemp, the state may have little choice in the matter. Stratton pointed out that because South Dakota would have to test hemp that’s being moved through the state under the new federal rules, it makes sense to allow farmers to grow it anyways.