South Dakota lawmakers are nearly done on 2020 measure to legalize industrial hemp

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Lee Qualm didn’t believe in the power of CBD oil to relieve pain, until his 88-year-old mother began using it.

The House Republican leader from Platte said Monday he’s now fully behind the hemp plant extract.

It’s one of the reasons Qualm and many other state lawmakers want to legalize industrial hemp in South Dakota in the 2020 legislative session.

Qualm, a farmer and rancher, chairs the Legislature’s industrial hemp study committee.

Another lawmaker on the panel, Representative Nancy York, said Monday she could support the effort if CBD could be excluded.

“That’s what makes it difficult,” said York, a Watertown Republican. “Don’t pass a medicinal product.”

Senator Joshua Klumb, a Mount Vernon Republican, said he didn’t have a problem with CBD.

Klumb, a farmer and rancher, disagreed with York’s suggestion that farmers be restricted to growing hemp only for grain and fiber purposes.

“I don’t want to over-regulate anyone unless we absolutely have to,” Klumb said.

Qualm said he’s now a firm believer in CBD oil: “I think it’s an excellent idea right now.”

“It’s coming. They’re doing studies,” Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat, said.

Lesmeister, a farmer and rancher, sponsored the 2019 legislation that Republican Governor Kristi Noem vetoed.

A two-thirds majority of House members voted to override the veto but the Senate fell four ayes short, 20-13.

Noem has already promised to veto a hemp bill in 2020. Her root fear is allowing industrial hemp would open the way to attempts to legalize marijuana.

The South Dakota Farmers Union firmly supports legalizing industrial hemp. Doug Sombke, the group’s state president, sat through much of the meeting Monday. Farmers Union sponsored a pro-hemp event afterward at the Pierre Ramkota where Qualm and Lesmeister spoke.

President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill that included a provision for legalizing industrial hemp nationwide if the THC level is below 0.3 percent.

Noem voted for the measure while a U.S. House member. South Dakota’s U.S. senators, Republicans John Thune and Mike Rounds, supported the measure too.

Qualm said Monday he’ll wait for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finish its rule-making before calling the committee together a final time to complete the South Dakota legislation.

He said the federal department intends to wrap up the rules by the end of this year. South Dakota’s 2020 session opens January 14.

Qualm told another committee member, Representative Tim Goodwin, a Rapid City Republican, he expected that most of the 315 questions Noem previously raised would be answered in USDA’s rules.

Goodwin said several times during the meeting that he wanted her cabinet to answer them. Qualm said he didn’t plan to answer them.

None of the Noem administration’s cabinet or senior staff attended the meeting in the Capitol.

The committee’s latest version of the 2020 legislation builds on the 2019 package.

It would require background checks for producers and paperwork to be carried when the hemp is being transported after harvest or processing.

At this point the draft also sets a 2.5-acre minimum size for a producer to be licensed, but that area could be larger in the final version.

While marijuana remains officially listed as a federally-illegal drug, some states already allow producers to grow industrial hemp, at the below-0.3 percent THC level, through a research provision in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Many states have defied the federal ban and passed laws legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes or both.

Minnesota legalized industrial hemp in 2015, according to Anthony Cortilet, who oversees the program there. He told the committee by telephone Monday that interest rose as CBD products quickly became popular, calling them “the game-changer.”

Cortilet said everything law enforcement had warned about in 2015 came true. “The problem they have is they don’t when and how they can intervene,” he said, adding that’s an issue “in every state.”

He cautioned South Dakota’s Agriculture Department to be ready to work with law enforcement “quite a bit.” He said the Minnesota Department of Agriculture shares all location information with law enforcement there.

About eight percent of the 540 fields licensed in Minnesota exceeded 0.3 percent THC, according to Cortilet. He said Minnesota plans to post the seed types that met the 0.3 percent threshold and those that didn’t on the department’s hemp website.

Industrial hemp is legal in North Dakota too, but Major Aaron Hummel of that state’s Highway Patrol said troopers there haven’t encountered any loads of marijuana that haulers claimed were hemp.

Also testifying by phone were officials from Purpl Scientific Inc., a St. Louis, Missouri, company that makes a portable potency-testing device the size of a hockey puck called Purpl PRO that sells for about $1,500, and one of its distributors, Delta9 Systems, based in Oregon.

Several companies based in South Dakota or with an operation in the state also had people testify.

One was Rachel Case, the technical services manager for the Glanbia Nutritionals plant in Sioux Falls. She said by phone the company has facilities in 32 countries and 6,000 employees. The protein content of pressed hemp is about 45 percent, more than flax seed or chia seed, and the Sioux Falls plant has capacity to add hemp to its foods mix, she said.

Representing Horizon Hemp Seeds LLC of Willow Lake were the son and father team of sales and marketing manager Derrick Dohmann and secretary-treasurer Dave Dohmann.

They’re already paying for hemp seed from North Dakota and Canada. They plan to harvest hemp seed from 150 acres in 2020, followed by 1,500 acres for 2021 and 3,000 acres in 2022.

The son Derrick said the availability of crop insurance for industrial hemp in 2020 was “pretty exciting stuff there.”

Horizon represents UniSeed, an Ontario, Canada-based company, in 10 states and worked with North Dakota State University this year. “We had our varieties across the whole state,” Derrick said.

The company’s overall leader is Tim Brantland, president of Legend Seeds at DeSmet.

Also personally appearing — in a green company-logo tee shirt with the word “Hemp” across the back — was Reed Vander Veen from Hemp Processing Solutions near Tea.

Senator Rocky Blare, an Ideal Republican, supported Noem’s veto in March, partially because he received so many questions. “That was one of the reasons I was hesitant last year with this bill,” Blare, the panel’s vice chairman, said.

Replied Qualm: “We’ve answered a lot of questions now. I feel really good about where we’re at now.”

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