South Dakota lawmakers are focused on drug crimes and legalizing industrial hemp

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two committees of lawmakers return to the state Capitol on Monday with potentially twin purposes of asking the Legislature in 2020 to make major adjustments to South Dakota’s drug-crimes laws.

One group is studying how South Dakota’s criminal code has filled prisons and jails with men and women convicted of violating drug laws.

The second panel is preparing legislation that would legalize industrial hemp — a cousin of marijuana, which remains on the federal illegal drugs list — in South Dakota.

Representative Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican and the House speaker, chairs the drug-offenses study. The vice chairman is Senator Craig Kennedy of Yankton, a Democrat whose position on the panel runs contrary to the expected in a body where Republicans hold more than two-thirds of the House and the Senate.

The drug-offenses committee meets for the first time this summer at 10 a.m. CT Monday in room 414 at the Capitol.

They’ll hear a convictions report from Greg Sattizahn, the administrator for the state’s Unified Judicial System that includes the circuit and magistrate courts and the state Supreme Court, whose judges and justices handle the trials, sentences and appeals for people accused of state drug crimes.

Then the panel’s legislators and other members will discuss how far the Legislature and its Executive Board intended they go in the coming months.

The industrial-hemp committee is meeting for the second time this summer. Its all-legislators panel gathers at noon CT in room 362.

The witnesses scheduled for the Monday meeting are officials from the departments of agriculture in neighboring states Montana and North Dakota, followed by state Agriculture Secretary Kim Vanneman and state Public Safety Secretary Craig Price.

The Legislature approved industrial-hemp legislation that Democratic Representative Oren Lesmeister of Parade sponsored in the 2019 session. But Governor Kristi Noem vetoed the final version for a variety of reasons that she outlined in her official notice to lawmakers.

Unable to override the veto in the Senate, the Legislature’s Executive Board decided to prepare to make a second run at industrial hemp in the 2020 session and chose the study panel’s members and set the scope for their work.

The chairman is House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, who supported the passage of HB 1191. The vice chairman is Senator Rocky Blare, a Republican from Ideal, who opposed it.

The panel heard from Kentucky agriculture and law-enforcement officials at its July 11 meeting. The current Farm Bill included a provision, sought by U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, that removed industrial hemp from the federal banned-drugs list.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on rules to allow general production of industrial hemp in time for the 2020 planting season. Kentucky has allowed industrial-hemp farming under a research provision in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Noem, as South Dakota’s member in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted for the 2018 Farm Bill. As governor she hasn’t publicly explained why she supported the bill’s passage with the broader industrial-hemp provision.

During the 2019 legislative debates, she sent various members of her Republican administration to oppose Lesmeister’s bill at its Senate committee hearing. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, the county-prosecutors association and the statewide police-chiefs association also opposed its passage.

Two ballot measures that would legalize marijuana are planned for statewide votes in the 2020 session.

One would legalize marijuana and paraphernalia. It is circulating for registered voters to sign petitions to put it in the November 2020 general-election ballot.

The other, which is not circulating yet, would legalize medical marijuana.

One reason that Governor Noem gave in her veto letter was that legalizing industrial hemp would provide a gateway for attempts to legalize marijuana.

According to the National Conference of State Legislature, 11 states have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult use, while more than 30 states have legalized medical marijuana.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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