AP NEWS

South Dakota Legislature clears hemp plan with Noem’s OK

March 13, 2020 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — It took until nearly the final vote of the legislative session, but the South Dakota Legislature cleared a proposal to legalize industrial hemp on Thursday.

Gov. Kristi Noem said she intends to sign the bill into law after legislators made a crucial inclusion with the proposal — allotting $3.5 million that the governor says is necessary to “responsibly” startup and run a hemp program. The governor vetoed a bill to legalize hemp last year, but agreed to approve it this year if it met four “guardrails” that she laid out to lawmakers, which included enforcement, regulation, transportation permitting, and funding.

Noem began the session saying that she wanted to see the hemp bill pass quickly through the Legislature, but it took until the final hours of the session for lawmakers to work out the bill. The main holdup was the money.

The governor wanted nearly $1.9 million in one-time funds to start-up the program, and a commitment of another $1.6 million to run it every year. Noem plans to spread the money across three state agencies, paying for up to 15 full-time staff positions, drug-testing equipment, drug-sniffing dogs and new drug storage space. The governor’s office has argued the money is necessary for law enforcement to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

Lawmakers argued the program could be implemented for much cheaper, but in the end agreed to meet the governor’s number.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, the Platte Republican who sponsored the bill, said that some of that money could be returned to the general fund if it isn’t spent. He has said he is not sure how many farmers will grow hemp this year. At least two hemp processors are looking to start operations under the proposal.

If Noem signs the bill, it contains an emergency clause that allows it to take immediate effect. The state would still need to get its hemp plan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which can take up to 60 days.

Qualm said this may give farmers enough time this spring to purchase seeds and plant a hemp crop.