PIERRE, S.D. — Officials from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture held center stage via telephone Thursday at the first meeting of the South Dakota Legislature’s committee studying industrial hemp.
Several South Dakota lawmakers visited Kentucky in mid-June, including House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, who chairs the study panel.
Qualm said a key meeting from the trip was two hours spent with the officials from the Kentucky Highway Patrol and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture around the table together.
“There’s opportunity out there in South Dakota for this,” Qualm said. He added that the Legislature needs “to get the roadblocks out of the way” so private industry could move ahead.
Sen. Joshua Klumb, a Mount Vernon Republican, said the Kentucky Highway Patrol initially opposed industrial hemp’s legalization after the 2014 federal Farm Bill allowed for research. Klumb said the Kentucky patrol leaders changed their opinion with time and experience.
“I’m very hopeful our (South Dakota Highway Patrol) can learn from them,” Klumb said.
Others on the Father’s Day weekend trip were Senator Rocky Blare, an Ideal Republican, and Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat. Lesmeister said it was “enlightening” to have other legislators see what he had been seeing.
“It’s not that they’re ahead of the curve. They’re just trying to keep up with the curve,” Lesmeister said about Kentucky’s experiment.
Kentucky Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff, Keith Rogers testified by telephone that Kentucky doesn’t allow medical or recreational marijuana. He said Kentucky’s program is designed to distinguish between marijuana and hemp.
“It’s heavy on the bureaucracy,” Rogers said, but that was necessary to win political support. He said 2019 marks Kentucky’s sixth year in the research program on industrial hemp.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture received authority from Congress for commercial production of industrial hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. States expect the USDA to issue regulations later this year.
The South Dakota Legislature approved an industrial-hemp bill this year by wide, bipartisan margins, but Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, vetoed it in March and the Senate failed to override. Lesmeister sponsored the measure.
Another Kentucky state official, Hemp Program Manager Doris Hamilton, said law enforcement has difficulty distinguishing between illegal cannabis and industrial hemp without expensive testing.
She said pre-approval is required on each of the nearly 250 strains of hemp being used in Kentucky and growers must record where they produce so law enforcement can track it. Inspectors sample hemp from every field and every variety for compliance.
Rogers, the chief of staff, said there are four full-time employees currently and two more will be hired. Another 10 part-time people will be hired to work during testing this fall, he said.
He said the fees charged make the program self-sufficient. There were about 60,000 acres approved for planting this year. He said about 8,000 acres have been planted so far and 20,000 to 30,000 acres of ground are expected to be planted.
Hamilton said Kentucky has about 1,000 licensed growers and about 200 licensed processors. She said 102 of the 120 counties in the state have licensed growers.
“It’s pretty much everywhere,” she said.