Attempt to override Noem's hemp legalization veto dies in Senate

Industrial hemp produces a dense stand of plants. The seeds are harvested and can be used for oil products. The fiber of the plant stalks is currently not harvested in North Dakota. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service
Industrial hemp produces a dense stand of plants. The seeds are harvested and can be used for oil products. The fiber of the plant stalks is currently not harvested in North Dakota. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. -- A bill to legalize hemp in South Dakota is officially dead after a motion to override Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's veto has failed in the Senate.

The House on Tuesday, March 12 voted by 55-11 to override Noem’s veto of House Bill 1191, which would legalize the growth and production of industrial hemp in South Dakota. Soon after, the same motion failed in the Senate, having needed a two-thirds majority. The Senate voted 20-13, falling four votes short.

HB 1191 prime sponsor Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said this was the year to move ahead with legalization: Surrounding states already have, Congress legalized the crop federally and industry was ready to move into the state. And any executive rule-making that the Noem administration would have to do this year will have to be addressed in future years just the same, he said.

“That’s why at this moment, I don’t know if South Dakota will ever have industrialized hemp.”

Noem issued her veto of HB 1191 Monday evening, hours after the bill passed. Her administration has stood strong against the bill since it passed out of its initial committee hearing in February, citing enforcement concerns and "a national effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use." Noem said South Dakota should wait until federal guidelines emerge from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration before legalizing the crop.

Rep. Caleb Finck, R-Tripp, said that South Dakota will have to tackle enforcement questions anyway, with hemp and hemp products moving through the state via interstate commerce. All neighboring states but Iowa have already legalized hemp, and the crop is legal federally thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill.

HB 1191, had it been signed into law, would have taken effect in July -- too late in the year for hemp to be grown in the 2019 season. Finck said HB 1191 would have allowed South Dakota more than a year to address any concerns.

"We’re not talking about putting hemp in the ground this year," Finck said. "We’re talking next growing season. If we get to January (2020) and we’ve come up with whole bunch of roadblocks and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to fix these things,’ we have an entire other legislative session before this actually happens."

With more than 40 other states in the country having already legalized the crop, proponents said vetoing HB 1191 leaves South Dakota behind. Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said that HB 1191 would have not only granted farmers opportunity to grow a new, potentially profitable crop, but also would have allowed manufacturers to come to the state and hire South Dakotans.

With South Dakota being among the last in the country to legalize hemp, Solano said these manufacturers aren’t going to wait around for the state to move forward with legalization in a year or more: they’ll just go elsewhere.

“Let’s start moving along this track before we truly are last,” Solano said before the Senate cast its vote. “Yes, we can always catch up on production but we’re not going to catch up when it comes to manufacturing.”

Following the Senate's vote on Tuesday, South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke called the veto a "crushing defeat for farmers and ranchers across South Dakota" that showed "a lack of forward-thinking."

"This new crop would have provided new jobs and opportunities for South Dakotans during a time when many commodity markets are down, and family farmers and ranchers are looking for new opportunities," Sombke said in his statement. "It's a sad day when South Dakota's Governor's does not understand the differences between hemp as a viable crop and marijuana, an illegal plant."