House OKs low-THC hemp for South Dakota, sends it to Senate

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Minutes after House members voted 54-12 Tuesday afternoon for legalizing low-THC hemp in South Dakota, the top elected lawmaker on the other side of the Capitol already knew where he plans to send it.

“It’d be my intention at this point to put it in Ag and Natural Resources,” Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, said. As president pro tem, he is responsible for deciding the best Senate committee for each bill.

“Last year that’s the committee that I assigned it to,” Greenfield continued. “It’s obviously an ag issue. I know that it has broader ramifications, and it holds a lot of promise for the state, but I think this is an issue best addressed by the agricultural experts, and most of them rest on the Ag and Natural Resources Committee.”

Governor Kristi Noem used her veto last year to stop a somewhat similar version of the hemp legislation from becoming state law. The difference this session is the Legislature’s top Republicans and Democrats agreed to meet key conditions the Republican governor laid down in January.

House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte was the only representative to speak about HB 1008 on the House floor Tuesday before the vote. He said it wasn’t a perfect bill because there is no perfect bill.

“But it does what we need to do to move forward and grow hemp in this state,” Qualm told House members.

He said afterward he didn’t expect to be the only House member to talk.

“I guess I was a little surprised at that. I expected somebody to get up and speak, but we’ve been discussing this now for two years, extensively. It’s been talked about so much. We’ve talked about it in our caucuses, as to what the bill stood for, what was in there. I think everybody just knew it, and there really was no reason to go any further.”

Qualm said he spoke with Rep. Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat who sponsored the 2019 legislation. They agreed Lesmeister shouldn’t get up unless something negative surfaced. The House has 59 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

“Sometimes you beat a dead horse and there’s no sense, you know, you talk yourself right out of things. So we figured less was more,” Qualm said.

The legislation needed a two-thirds majority of at least 47 ayes in the House, because it contains an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect immediately upon getting the governor’s signature. Otherwise it would become law July 1.

Congress legalized industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill that Noem supported while she was in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state legislation currently would follow the federal law and keep illegal all hemp that has more than three-tenths of one percent of THC, the compound that makes people feel high. South Dakota’s program would still need U.S. Department of Agriculture approval.

The big issue yet ahead for South Dakota legislators is finding the money for the program. Noem didn’t put any in her budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year. Her budget office estimates the price tag at about $3.5 million to get it up and keep it running for the first year.

“The one-time monies that are coming in now, we should have no problem at all finding that. And then the understanding we have, second floor (the governor’s office) is looking at getting the money (that) comes out of the highway tax fund, some of that stuff. We just have to get that figured out. We’re having conversation right now.

“I don’t see us having a problem getting it at all. There’s a lot of support for it,” Qualm continued. He said “the big unknown” is what the latest tax receipts show this week. The 18 lawmakers on the House-Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations plan to set a preliminary revenue estimate Thursday. A subcommittee meets Wednesday to decide on a recommendation.

“And then (Thursday) I think is when we can really move forward and really have an idea. But until that point in time, we don’t really know where to go for certain, we just need to make sure we see everything is there to meet our obligations that we can, and then we find this (money for the hemp program),” Qualm said. “We’ll get it figured out.”

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