Hemp Bill Falls On Legislative Hurdle

Feb 18, 2016

It's possible the State Senate could smoke-out the hemp bill. The term smoke-out is used in the legislature when referring to the action of reviving dead bill on the chamber floor.

A panel of state legislators has turned down a bill to legalize industrial hemp.  The bill passed the house by a large majority, but hit a wall in its first hearing before the Senate Ag and Natural Resources Committee.

Proponents say hemp doesn’t contain THC, the component in marijuana that produces a high.  They say hemp can be a good source of income for farmers, and add that surrounding states are out competing South Dakota.   

But opponents say hemp is too close to marijuana and too difficult to regulate.  

The 2014 Farm Bill has a provision that allows for the production of industrial hemp in certain cases.  Proponents of the crop in South Dakota include Republican State Representative Mike Verchio.  He points out that about 20 other states have passed measures allowing industrial hemp.

“This is ideal for small farms, as I said, and will help drastically in a few years once it’s get implemented in our farm economy, says Verchio.  He adds, “North Dakota is so far ahead of us at this point.  If we could just split half of that I think $400 million is kind of worth pursuing for our ag community.”

Opponents include Brandon Beshears  with the State Department of Agriculture. He says hemp is too difficult and costly to regulate.  

“Since hemp is considered a controlled substance by the federal government there is no way for us to administer a program that would not be burdensome and completely unwieldy for growers,” says Beshears.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the Attorney General’s office, and The South Dakota Sheriffs and Police Chief’s Associations are among those who rose in opposition to the bill.   In rebuttal Verchio calls opponent testimony a red herring.

There is no way for us to administer a program that would not be burdensome and completely unwieldy for growers.

“It’s a little disappointing to have the Attorney General’s office who said they’re going to remain neutral to change their mind.  Once this passed the house committee,  and house floor with such resounding votes it look like the  governor’s office has rallied his troops and sent them up here to be on full attack,” says Verchio.

The committee killed the bill by a vote of 5 to 4.  It’s possible it could be revived by a procedure called a "smoke-out" on the senate floor.