South Dakota lawmakers look to legalize hemp in 2020

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A panel of South Dakota lawmakers has approved a draft bill that legalizes hemp to be grown, produced, processed and transported in the state under certain conditions.

The Legislature's industrial hemp study committee voted to send the bill to the 2020 legislative session during a meeting Monday, Dec. 2, in Pierre.

House Bill 236 bill defines industrial hemp as "the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including seeds, extracts, cannabinoids, acids, salts and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannibinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis."

The bill states that anyone wanting to grow, produce or process industrial hemp would need a license to do so. Those found in possession of industrial hemp who do not have a license would be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

License applications would be processed by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, and all applicants would need to submit to a criminal background check.

If approved, a license would be valid for up to 15 months. Industrial hemp could only be grown on 5 continuous acres.

A license to transport hemp would also required and would be valid for up to 15 months.

The draft legislation was approved with a 10-1 vote. District 5 state Rep. Nancy York, R-Watertown, was the lone nay vote.

Gov. Kristi Noem reaffirmed her position against legalizing hemp in a news release on Nov. 5. She continues to make the case that legalizing hemp would legalize marijuana by default.

Noem vetoed a bill during the 2019 legislative session that would have legalized industrial hemp in the state.

During discussion of the bill, District 2A state Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, spoke of attending the U.S. Hemp Building Summit in Ketchum, Idaho.

Lesmeister said he toured a house that was constructed entirely of hemp products, right down to the ceiling fan.

Hemp insulation is resistant to mold and repels pests, unlike fiberglass insulation, Lesmeister said.

Lesmeister said he learned how hempcrete is stronger than concrete, and that hemp boards designed to replace wooden boards absorb a stain and can have the appearance of any given wood type.

District 21 state Rep. Lee Qualm, chairman of the committee, said the ability to grow and process hemp would only strengthen the state's agricultural industry. It would also allow farmers to decide for themselves if they feel the crop is profitable.

"USDA made this a legal entity to grow — all we have to do is give our producers and processors the ability to come in and make a new market. We can't dictate that someone's going to make a lot of money," Qualm said.

From selecting a reliable and reputable seed source to understanding how labor intensive a hemp crop can be, lawmakers agreed that those who decide to grow hemp need to start out small and do their due diligence.

The 2020 legislative session begins Jan. 14.

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