Committee Passes Bill Allowing Industrial Hemp

Feb 2, 2016

The State Capitol building in Pierre.

Members of a state House committee voted in favor of a bill allowing the production and sale of industrial hemp. Farmers have to go through a permitting process before growing the crop.

State Representative Mike Verchio is a prime sponsor of the measure. He says industrial hemp is much different than the version of cannabis used for marijuana.  He says the hemp permitted in House Bill 1054 cannot have more than three tenths of one percent THC, the chemical responsible for the high, while pot averages around ten percent. He says hemp looks different than marijuana, and can be used to make a variety of products. He says it is beneficial to South Dakota’s agricultural economy.
“Hemp is easy to grow, requires no chemicals, pesticides, or herbicides,” Verchio says. “It conditions the soil, it is a great rotational crop for corn and beans. Hemp produces four times as much fiber per acre as pine trees for paper production. And hemp paper can be recycled seven times verses three for pine pulp paper. The total estimated retail market in the US, based on imports is $865 million.”
But opponents are concerned about differentiating between industrial hemp and pot. They say ensuring that only industrial hemp is grown, and not marijuana, presents a challenge. Paul Bachand is with the South Dakota State’s Attorneys Association.
“Keep that in mind, in various growing stages it may look different, but when bagged up perhaps, or when baled up, it may not look different,” Bachand says. “So you will have to go through that process of testing and analyzing to determine whether or not it’s less than that percentage point that was listed in the bill or not. It’s for those reasons that we object to this measure. We don’t think it sends the right message when we’re dealing period with any form of marijuana, oilseed and the like.”
Opponents are also concerned the option to grow industrial hemp might act as a gateway to allow the production of marijuana in the future.
Members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted eleven to two to pass the measure. It now heads to the House floor for further debate.