Governor Noem Says Legalizing Industrial Hemp Could Open Door To Marijuana

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Kristi Noem 4

Legalizing production of industrial hemp in South Dakota this legislative session would open the way to marijuana transportation in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem told news reporters Thursday.

“South Dakota’s not ready for industrial hemp today,” she said. “We’re not ready from an agricultural perspective.”

Noem said her administration doesn’t have money budgeted to set up a licensing program with inspectors on the ground.

She said the plant looks “exactly” like marijuana “because it is the same plant as a marijuana plant.”

“So when you look at a public safety standpoint, I have great concerns there as well,” Noem said.

Among other points she made, no U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and structure are in place yet, and South Dakota doesn’t have a system yet for roadside tests for THC levels, meaning law enforcement officers would have to rely on visual tests.

“And because it is the same plant, and looks exactly the same, that would be incredibly challenging for them. Drug dogs will also tip off on industrial hemp just like they will on marijuana, so that will not be a tool we’ll be able to utilize,” Noem said.

She said current equipment at a state government laboratory isn’t sufficiently sensitive to determine the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana.

“Industrial hemp is opening the door to marijuana distribution in South Dakota,” she said.

She continueD:. “I am 100 percent convinced that this would open the pathway for that to happen, and that if we did move forward, without being adequately prepared, that we’d be back here in a couple of years having a discussion about the inability to enforce transportation, the inability of law enforcement officers to determine the difference, and be having a conversation on if we should be allowing marijuana to be transported.”

Noem said she’s had many conversations with people, including counselors and parents, about marijuana’s effects: “Across the board, overhwelmingly, they tell me marijuana is a gateway drug.”

This was the second week in a row the Republican governor used her legislative news conference to strongly discourage state lawmakers from legalizing industrial hemp this year.

State House members voted 65-2 Monday to approve industrial-hemp legislation from Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat.

Some representatives applauded after the bill passed. HB 1191 now goes to the Senate, where Republican Jordan Youngberg of Madison is lead sponsor.

Growing industrial hemp became legal at the federal level when Congress passed the farm bill last year.

Noem said Thursday that her tribal affairs secretary, David Flute, told her the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate met various difficulties last year when the tribal government grew it on an experimental basis. Flute was tribal chairman at the time.

Noem, who took office January 5, said South Dakota doesn’t have the regulatory system necessary. She called for the Legislature to defeat any industrial-hemp legislation this year.

She previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives and voted for the farm bill last year. The hemp language came at the request of U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

In the Senate, Republican Jordan Youngberg of Madison is lead sponsor.

“Any of these questions and concerns, I want to work with her,” Youngberg said after the Senate finished action Thursday afternoon. “That’s the message I want to put out there.”

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