In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday evening, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said that until law enforcement has a reliable and efficient method to differentiate marijuana from industrial hemp, South Dakota would not be joining the other states that have legalized hemp following the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill in December.
“Every experiment needs a control,” she wrote. “I believe the social experiment our nation is conducting with highly potent legal weed will end poorly. But to create evidence for a comparison, we need leaders willing to stand up and say, ‘No.’”
Noem said that if a bill to legalize hemp in South Dakota reaches her desk in 2020, she will veto it, just as she did with a similar measure earlier this year.
Noting that she comes from a farming and ranching family, Noem said that she understands the desire for a new cash crop for the state. But without a way for law enforcement to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, legalizing hemp effectively legalizes both forms of cannabis.
Similar Bill Nixed Earlier This Year
Following the legalization of hemp at the federal level, South Dakota legislators, like those in many other states, passed a bill earlier this year that would have legalized hemp agriculture. But when the bill was sent to Noem in March, she chose to veto the measure rather than sign it.
“There is no question in my mind that normalizing hemp, like legalizing medical marijuana, is part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable,” she said in a statement following her veto.
Noem’s veto came despite pressure from the agricultural community in South Dakota to approve the bill. In an op-ed published before her decision, the editorial board of Agweek said that Noem had “taken a public position that clearly works against South Dakota agriculture.”
“It’s widely understood in ag circles that industrial hemp, which is very different from marijuana, is well suited for marginal land,” the editorial said. “It’s widely understood in ag circles that industrial hemp potentially could generate profits for the hard-pressed South Dakota ag operators farming that land.”
After deciding to try to get a hemp legalization bill passed again during next year’s legislative session, South Dakota lawmakers have been working this summer to draft a new measure. But at a meeting of the Hemp Study Committee last month, legislators bemoaned the fact that state agencies tasked with studying the issue haven’t made much progress.
Upon hearing of Noem’s pledge to veto a 2020 hemp legalization bill, Republican Rep. Lee Qualm, the hemp committee chair, declined to comment on the matter until he has an opportunity to read the governor’s editorial.