PIERRE, S.D. — State representatives overwhelmingly advanced legislation Monday to legalize industrial hemp in South Dakota, just days after Republican Gov. Kristi Noem asked lawmakers to shelve the efforts this session.
The 65-2 House vote came after Noem said in a statement Friday that South Dakota isn't ready for the production of industrial hemp, contending questions remain about enforcement, taxpayer costs and effects on public safety. But House Majority Leader Lee Qualm urged support and said it's time to move forward with hemp.
Qualm said after the vote that he had a "good dialogue" with Noem on Sunday evening about the bill. The Republican from Platte said he would support overriding a potential veto from Noem but didn't think it would come to that.
"She's got some legitimate concerns," Qualm said. "I think it's something that we can address and get fixed."
The 2018 federal farm bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp, but Noem's office has noted the crop isn't currently authorized for growth in South Dakota and discouraged farmers from making plans to produce it during the 2019 growing season.
"We need to see federal guidelines when they are issued and then decide if this commodity is as promising as they say it will be," Noem said in the statement.
Democratic Rep. Oren Lesmeister, the bill's sponsor, said on the House floor that if lawmakers wait until next year or later to approve the measure, the state would be so far behind that industries looking to locate in South Dakota wouldn't come. Supporters anticipate that hemp planting wouldn't happen until 2020 under the bill.
J.B. Meyer, president of A.H. Meyer & Sons in Winfred, said legalizing the crop would allow his business to process industrial hemp purchased from suppliers. Delaying the measure would cause the company to lose out on income, he said.
Jarrod Otta, plant manager for Glanbia Nutritionals in Sioux Falls, told a House committee last week that the company has been contacted by two "very large customers" to process hemp protein. Otta said he couldn't disclose the companies but called them "large household names that you would all know."
"Every month we go by with the hemp laws written the way they are is a lost opportunity for our state," said Otta, noting that the company has a facility built to process plant proteins. "Please help us legalize hemp so we can add another product to our portfolio and grow the plant here in this state."
The bill defines industrial hemp as containing no more than 0.3 percent THC. The measure would require prospective growers to get a Department of Agriculture license and pass state and federal background checks.
Applicants who have been convicted of a felony drug crime in the previous 10 years would be disqualified. The bill would allow Agriculture Department employees to enter areas where hemp is grown, stored and processed to take samples and perform inspections.