Deal would legalize low-THC hemp in S.D.

Capitol News Bureau

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The long fight appeared to be over Wednesday morning on legalizing low-THC hemp in South Dakota.

State lawmakers on a conference committee added funding language to HB 1008. The House and Senate will vote on their revised version Thursday, the final day of the main run of the 2020 session.

Any problems left? “At this moment, no,” said Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat. “The only trouble would be if they (senators) try to hold it hostage again for other reasons.”

He said the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations, whose members oversee state government’s budget, wanted the funding language inserted.

The bill is already set up to become state law upon getting the governor’s signature.

Lesmeister sponsored legislation last year that would have legalized industrial-grade hemp. But Republican Governor Kristi Noem vetoed it, saying South Dakota wasn’t ready and warning it would open the way toward legalization of marijuana.

But the governor this year worked with legislators so that the legislation met her ‘four guardrails‘ including funding she said were necessary for the 2020 bill to get her approval.

Noem, with Senate and House Republican leaders alongside, held a news conference Monday to say they had found money in the budget for next year to pay for the hemp program and to provide 2 percent raises in state aid to schools, Medicaid healthcare providers and state government workers.

House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte is prime sponsor of this year’s hemp legislation. He was smiling as he talked with reporters after the conference committee.

“I feel good about it,” Qualm said. “I really like what we have.”

How many acres of hemp are planted this year depends on the weather — Qualm said most farmers already have their 2020 plans in place — and on how quickly the state Department of Agriculture gets the program’s rules passed and the U.S. Department of Agriculture does its review.

The federal agency has 60 days to announce a decision after receiving a state’s plan.

The state Bureau of Finance and Management estimated about $1.9 million will be needed to start the program and about $1.6 million to run it the first year. Qualm said any excess could be reverted for other uses or could be re-budgeted next winter for the second year.

The amounts added to the bill Wednesday morning match the one-time costs in the BFM estimate. Also added was a sentence that says spending for the program could be included in either the general appropriations act or a special appropriations bill.

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