WASHINGTON, D.C. (KELO) — New federal rules open the door to industrial hemp growing in the United States and even develops a plan for individuals to apply for a permit to farm in states without regulations.

However, a spokesperson for South Dakota’s Attorney General still says it’s illegal.

“The position of the Office of the Attorney General remains unchanged,” Tim Bormann said. “Hemp is still illegal under South Dakota law and marijuana is still illegal under both South Dakota and federal law.”

The 2018 Farm Bill required the U.S. Department of Agriculture establish the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program. It was announced on Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

Perdue said a new rule from the agency will outline how states can submit plans for producers to grow hemp.

“At USDA, we are always excited when there are new economic opportunities for our farmers, and we hope the ability to grow hemp will pave the way for new products and markets,” Perdue said.

This rule also opens the door to a federal licensing program to states that do not have a program or their program was denied by the federal government.

Eric Steenstra with Vote Hemp says it doesn’t matter because industrial hemp is illegal in South Dakota.

“At this point, South Dakota producers wouldn’t be able to grow hemp,” Steenstra said.

The USDA confirmed to KELOLAND News that as well.

Steenstra can’t figure out why Noem is against industrial hemp when Republicans like U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell are for it.

He is in contact with South Dakota lawmakers as they push toward trying to legalize the agriculture commodity.

“Unfortunately our producers don’t get to benefit from this new opportunity.”

Doug Sombke, president, South Dakota Farmers Union

KELOLAND News has reached out to the USDA to see if this new rule would supersede South Dakota laws. The agency has not yet responded.

Lawmakers have attempted to establish an industrial hemp program in the 2019 legislative session. It passed, but Noem vetoed it.

At the time, the governor pointed to the fact that USDA rules hadn’t come out.

“There is no urgent problem requiring an immediate solution this session. Until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) issues its own rules, the regular growth and interstate transport of hemp cannot begin.  No industrial hemp will cross into South Dakota without those rules, which USDA has announced it will not issue until late 2019.  We have no way of knowing today what those rules will require,” Noem said in her veto letter to the state House of Representatives.

That changed this week, but will it change the governor’s mind? That’s not clear. Press Secretary Kristin Wileman said the governor and her team are reviewing the USDA rule. Noem, however, recently said she would veto hemp-related measures again in the 2020 legislative session.

Lawmakers have been working on 2020 legislation this summer. Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) is on the legislative committee studying industrial hemp.

“This is good news for South Dakota,” Nesiba Tweeted on Tuesday before the draft rules were released. “Once we have guidance from the USDA we can finish our draft legislation.”

The draft rule will be finalized later this week when it’s published in the Federal Register.

The rule does a few things:

  • It sets requirements for the land where hemp will be produced
  • It also sets requirements for testing the levels of THC
  • Establishes what to do if plants don’t meet the requirements
  • Sets licensing requirements

The rule also makes clear that the interstate commerce of hemp is not prohibited in the U.S., something South Dakota has disagreed with.

The USDA will begin considering plans submitted by states and tribes across the country in the next few weeks. The USDA confirmed the Flandreau Santee Sioux tribe did submit an industrial hemp plan and it is under review.

According to a USDA spokesperson, producers can begin submitting applications for a USDA hemp production license, if the state doesn’t have a plan, on Nov. 30, 2019.

“Producers in states that do not allow the production of hemp will not be able to participate in this program,” according to a USDA spokesperson.

The South Dakota Farmers Union is interpreting the rule that the USDA has the authority since the state has not submitted a plan.

“Because industrial hemp production is illegal in South Dakota a producer could apply to the USDA to get approved to grow industrial hemp. However we are being told this is likely a rigorous, lengthy process and would likely be better to wait for the State to legalize production,” said Luke Reindl a legislative and communications specialist at SDFU.

Doug Sombke, the president of the group applauds the USDA’s regulations.

“The USDA did an exceptional job outlining a regulatory framework for hemp production in the United States,” Sombke said. “South Dakota Legislators now have all the information they need to make industrial hemp work for the farmers and the communities they represent. It’s a rural development issue ripe for the picking – unfortunately our producers don’t get to benefit from this new opportunity.”

South Dakota is one of only four states that has not yet legalized industrial hemp production.