SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A bill limiting the number of marijuana plants allowed for home cultivation has made its way through the legislature, and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk.
Under the current law, medical marijuana patients who are approved for home cultivation are allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants at a time, with more allowed if prescribed by a physician.
If signed into law, the ability of a doctor to increase the number of plants allowed will be removed, and a limit of four total plants, two flowering and two non-flowering, will be put into place.
Kittrick Jeffries, director of compliance at Dakota Cannabis Consulting explained the difference between a flowering and non-flowering plant.
“Flowering is what happens when the plant starts producing buds,” explained Jeffries over the phone. “So in the lifecycle of a plant, the same way as a flower blooms, a cannabis plant will start to show unique characteristics and creating the buds that most people are familiar with, which is typically what you roll into joints.”
An immature plant, says Jeffries, would simply be a plant that has not gotten to the stage in life where it is producing buds.
When it comes to home-growing marijuana for medical use under this law, Jeffries says the 4-plant limit will cause difficulties for some. “Do I think two flowering plant are going to be enough for patients who are growing at home,” he asked. “It’s going to be more of a hobby I’d say.”
Jeffries says it will be tough for a person living in Eureka or Hot Springs, two places without planned, licensed dispensaries nearby to purchase medical marijuana. “I don’t think two plants is going to be enough to hold them over to the next cycle.”
That cycle, the length of time that it takes to bring a plant to maturity in order to harvest, will likely be disrupted for those looking to grow under this new law.
Jeffries explains that in order to create a consistent supply, growers will need to take cuttings from their existing plants in order to grow ‘clones’, essentially growing a new plant from a clipping of their existing plants.
The issue with clipping for cloning is that according to Jeffries, the clippings must be taken from immature plants, as forming clones from flowering plants is, in his words, extremely hard to do.
Because of the two flowerings, two non-flowering plants maximum, this means that you would not be able to clip and begin rooting your clones (a process of planting the clippings and ensuring the roots take hold, which Jeffries says can take up to 14-days) until your flowering plants have both been harvested and disposed of.
This means that you will have a gap in supply from when your flowing plants are finished, to when you can clip your immature plants and begin the process of bringing them to maturity. “You’re trying to create a perpetual harvest cycle,” said Jeffries. “That doesn’t leave a lot of window for opportunity to take cuttings.”
Another area where the law may cause issues for some is for those who are beginning the home cultivation process. The letter of the law is fairly explicit; you are allowed to have two flowering plants and two non-flowering plants. Not three non-flowering plants and one flowering plant, or even four non-flowering plants and no flowering plants.
Due to this, those seeking to begin cultivation will need to start with two plants, and with most growers starting the process from seeds, Cannabis Industry Association of South Dakota executive director Ned Horsted explained that this could be a bit of a barrier to entry for some.
“If you get just regular seeds, which is the way that most growers do it — if you have four seeds you put in, at least two of those are likely to be male, and in a male plant you don’t get any THC,” said Horsted.
However, as already mentioned, you would not be allowed under the new law to plant four seeds at once, with the statute requiring that you wait for your first two plants to reach maturity and flower before you could plant the next two, lest you end up running afoul of the law by winding up with four immature plants at once.
Starting with just two seedlings, you run the risk of one or both of them being male plants, which you would need to wait for them to grow to determine. If either is a male plant, you would need to destroy it before it begins producing pollen, which would cause a female plant to produce seeds, compromising the quality of your medicine. In either case, you will have to start again from scratch, out the cost of seeds, which Jeffries says run anywhere in the range of $5-$50, as well as the weeks of time, spent growing.
“If you think about it,” said Horsted, “if you’re planting two seeds right out the gate, one of them might be a male — you might have something that doesn’t turn out with the other one — so it just really would stretch out the timeline that patient would need to actually grow something meaningful. It’s going to take at least a month; probably a couple months to know whether or not you’ve got a male plant or a female plant, and how viable it is.”
Viability is absolutely a concern with cultivation as well, especially for those who may be new to the process.
“When you’re looking at home cultivation, there’s a lot of different variables,” explained Jeffries. “You’re recreating an outdoor environment inside — using lights, irrigation, soil; things like that, so the yield is going to be very dependent on that.”
Both Jeffries and Horsted also pointed out that among states allowing home cultivation, South Dakota will be among the most restrictive, if not the most.
“States that have recreational marijuana have more than two flowering plants,” said Jeffries. “Montana, our neighbors to the northwest, they have four [flowering plants], some states have six. That’s for recreational, and so for a medical patient, it seems a little restrictive.”
If this bill is passed into law, home cultivators who may currently be growing more than four plants will likely need to destroy a portion of their crop in order to avoid violating the law. This could also be a tough prospect for those who built up facilities capable of growing several plants, as things such as grow lights can cost hundreds of dollars.
For those concerned about potentially violating the law if their immature plants began flowering too early, Jeffries offers reassurance. “You’re controlling the light cycle — a cannabis plant typically flowers with 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.” He says growers should be able to keep their immature plants in that state by providing them with 18 hours of daylight and 6 hours of darkness.