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South Dakota industrial hemp backers fail to overcome veto

March 12, 2019
FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2019 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first State of the State address in Pierre, S.D. Noem says she's proposing legislation ahead of the Keystone XL oil pipeline's construction that would create a legal avenue to pursue out-of-state money that funds protests aimed at slowing construction. The Republican governor said Monday, March 4, 2019 that she wants to make sure Keystone XL and future pipelines are built safely and efficiently while shielding the state and counties from major law enforcement costs if there are riots. (AP Photo/James Nord, File)

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House voted Tuesday to override the governor’s veto of a hemp legalization bill but the Senate didn’t get the two-thirds majority needed to follow suit, killing the measure for the current legislative session.

The Senate voted 20-13 to override Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s veto but needed 24 votes to push it through. The override attempt got more than enough support in the House, which voted 55-11 earlier Tuesday.

Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert, a supporter, said the bill was right for South Dakota’s producers and residents who want to use, grow and manufacture the product. The National Conference of State Legislatures said at least 41 states have enacted hemp growing and production programs.

“We don’t have to be last all the time,” Heinert told his colleagues before the vote.

The main sponsor, Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister, said in a statement after the override attempt that Noem is out of touch with lawmakers and the people of South Dakota. The lawmaker added that Wyoming, which recently passed its own hemp bill, was probably “jumping for joy right now because we’re out of the market.”

Lesmeister said previously that if the bill got vetoed, one company had said it would likely look elsewhere. Jarrod Otta, plant manager for Glanbia Nutritionals in Sioux Falls, told a House committee recently that the company has been contacted by two “very large customers” to process hemp protein.

Otta added that the global company has looked at where else it can process hemp if not at its South Dakota plant.

“Please help us legalize hemp so we can add another product to our portfolio and grow the plant here in this state,” he said.

Lesmeister told reporters that he doesn’t think supporters ever had a “fair shot,” saying he never had a conversation with Noem about the bill. The veto was a disappointment, he said.

Noem said in her Monday veto message that “normalizing” hemp was part of a bigger strategy to make marijuana legalization inevitable. She said the bill would make law enforcement’s job more difficult.

“I do not doubt the motives of this bill’s legislative champions,” Noem said. “However, an overwhelming number of contacts I have received in favor of this bill come from pro-marijuana activists.”

In a video Noem tweeted Tuesday, she said South Dakota isn’t ready for industrial hemp. Noem said drug dogs would flag hemp like marijuana, officers alongside a road wouldn’t have the tools to tell between a crop and a drug, and federal guidelines won’t be coming until the fall. The video ends with a branding iron-style stamp pressing the word “veto” onto the bill.

Montana Farmers Union lobbyist and project specialist Chris Christiaens said farmers there planted 22,000 acres of hemp last year, a number he expects to grow to 75,000 in 2019. Hemp processing mills are also starting, he said.

When asked if the Montana Highway Patrol has experienced problems with industrial hemp, including people trying to transport marijuana disguised as hemp, law enforcement confusion over which plant they’ve encountered or drug dogs flagging both hemp and marijuana, a Montana Department of Justice spokesman said in an email: “The Highway Patrol hasn’t come across any of those issues as of yet.”

The 2018 federal farm bill legalized cultivation of industrial hemp nationally. Supporters argued planting hemp wouldn’t even happen until 2020 under the South Dakota proposal, which defined industrial hemp as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. Although hemp and marijuana look alike, only marijuana could get a person high.

Lesmeister has said the Senate added “close to 90 percent” of a suggested amendment from the governor’s office. The alterations included broader background check requirements, giving more rulemaking authority to state agencies and restricting who could transport industrial hemp. The changes also required hemp to be grown outdoors.

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