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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

March 18, 2019

Rapid City Journal, March 14

Hemp veto seems futile

Gov. Kristi Noem doesn’t doubt the sincere intentions of misguided South Dakota lawmakers who championed a bill to legalize hemp.

Likewise, we assume she doesn’t doubt the intentions of eight in every 10 House legislators and six in every 10 senators who voted Monday to approve hemp farming. On Tuesday, the Senate fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to overcome Noem’s veto.

Explaining herself, the governor said she has no doubts that the effort to normalize hemp is part of a larger strategy to undermine the enforcement of drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable. Still, it’s understandable why so many opposing lawmakers were led astray.

Possibly, they were influenced by Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said hemp was poised to take off and has the potential to become a significant cash crop.

Perhaps it was the Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate — including Noem herself — which approved the 2018 Farm Bill, paving the way for legalized hemp.

Maybe it was the various levels of support shown in 41 states that have enacted hemp growing and production programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Possibly it was the February statement of South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, who told Tri-State Neighbor: “I’m a pretty big prude when it comes to drug use, and hemp is a very different product than marijuana.” For the most part, he added, the country has reached a level of “educated comfort” about the once-illegal crop and people are ready to include hemp as an agricultural commodity.

Noem, however, said South Dakota must stand as an example for the rest of the country rather than simply go along with others.

Wyoming didn’t applaud the South Dakota governor’s independence and courage last week but snickered. Wyoming Republican state Rep. Bunky Loucks told the Journal a veto from Noem would mean less competition for the Wyoming hemp industry.

“Tell her I hope she vetoes it, because that would be good for Wyoming,” he said. In Wyoming, a bill to allow industrial hemp passed the House 60-0, the Senate 26-3-1, and then the House again 56-3-1 after being amended in the Senate. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, last week signed it into law.

So many misguided but sincere individuals.

Noem said in South Dakota it was mostly cannabis activists who voiced support for hemp. “An overwhelming number of contacts I have received in favor of this bill come from pro-marijuana activists,” she said in her veto message.

It must have been those same voices that swayed rural legislators in crackerbarrels, grain co-ops and in main street cafes across South Dakota. It must have been those voices that also influenced Rapid City’s conservative delegation to support industrial hemp.

Noem earlier complained it would be difficult for law enforcement officers to distinguish between marijuana and hemp. In North Dakota, which began a test program for hemp years ago, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said, “That’s not even an issue.”

Noem’s real opposition to hemp appears connected to the trace amounts of THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — that would be contained in widely available cannabidiol or CBD oil.

Under the South Dakota proposal, industrial hemp would have contained no more than 0.3 percent THC. An aging bottle of fruit juice in your refrigerator probably contains three times that concentration of alcohol. It’s a non-issue for drug abuse. The only problem it presents is for South Dakota’s unique-in-the-nation ingestion laws, which make it a felony to have any amount of THC in your bloodstream.

Cannabidiol, popularly known as CBD, is a chemical compound that can be extracted from hemp or marijuana for use in products that are often claimed to have therapeutic benefits. South Dakota’s hemp legislation would have legalized CBD at the state level, but its sale would still have been subject to FDA regulations.

As Noem explained: “It would create uncertainty for prosecution under our ingestion statute because the source of THC is placed in doubt when industrial hemp products that contain small amounts of THC, such as cannabidiol or CBD, are legalized. As governor, I will not leave it to our courts to interpret how this bill impacts our prohibition on the active ingredient in marijuana, and I do not believe the Legislature intended to complicate enforcement of our ingestion statute in this way.”

The legislative momentum in surrounding states makes it clear that hemp will be in South Dakota after 2020. The Farm Bill also makes clear: No state or tribe can stop legally produced hemp from being transported through their jurisdictions.

Our state is not yet ready for industrial hemp, Noem assures us. But apparently Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota are ready.

In this light, Noem’s veto seems a futile gesture. Still, we have no doubts about her sincere intentions.

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American News, Aberdeen, March 16

SD farmers are the losers with hemp veto

Gov. Kristi Noem failed South Dakota farmers when she vetoed the industrial hemp bill passed by the Legislature.

She, of course, had some help from the Senate, which failed to override the veto. But she bears the bulk of the responsibility.

At a time when farmers are struggling and commodity prices are low for both crops and livestock, she pumped the brakes on what could be a new crop in South Dakota, even if it probably won’t ever rival corn and soybeans.

The real kicker that is she has a farm background.

Don’t forget that while a member of Congress, she voted for the Farm Bill that removed industrial hemp from the federal list of controlled substances.

She also championed her support of the Farm Bill while campaigning for governor.

In Washington, we realize, compromises have to be made. It’s likely no representative or senator who voted in favor of the Farm Bill liked everything the massive measure included.

But it’s unlikely any other member of the last session of Congress became governor and vetoed a bill that would have cleared the way for growing a crop allowed in the Farm Bill.

No compromises are necessary in Pierre, or course, where the Republicans rule the roost. It’s a safe bet that Noem was confident the GOP would see that her first veto wasn’t overridden.

Industrial hemp will certainly return as a topic in Pierre. It will likely have a prime sponsor who’s a Republican (not a Democrat, which was the case this year) with some details cleaned up and assurances in place that it won’t offend anybody’s delicate sensibilities.

In a letter to the Legislature detailing her concerns, Noem lamented how industrial hemp could pose problems for law officers who might struggle to tell the difference between it and its distant cousin, marijuana, which is illegal in South Dakota.

And she expresses concern that U.S. Department of Agriculture rules concerning industrial hemp won’t be released until later this year.

But it seems unlikely that any industrial hemp would have been grown in South Dakota this year anyhow.

And then there’s this:

“Finally, I am concerned that this bill supports a national effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use. I do not doubt the motives of this bill’s legislative champions. However, an overwhelming number of contacts I have received in favor of this bill come from pro-marijuana activists. 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.”

Doubtless, those who want to legalize marijuana are in favor of industrialized hemp. That’s a given.

But to make the jump that allowing industrialized hemp will lead to the recreational use of marijuana being legalized in South Dakota is a stretch. That will only happen when and if the state’s citizens vote to allow it. If that happens years from now, it will be the result of majority rule, nothing more. It won’t be because somebody wants to grow hemp to manufacture oils or clothing or pet bedding or anything else.

Some see industrial hemp as a viable, more eco-friendly replacement (or at least a greener version) for environment-damaging plastics. Hemp, which has been around and in use for decades, has thousands — one estimate is 50,000 — of uses.

Some see as the next billion-dollar idea in farm country.

One of the problems with South Dakota saying no to hemp, at least for now, is that it is an emerging industry. And these days, industry moves at a lightning pace.

Plans for hemp processing and manufacturing plants not only are being dreamed of and discussed, they are being put together. Noem’s veto likely has excluded South Dakota from such conversations.

How much economic damage and how many jobs will this veto cost us? None? A little? A lot? We will never know, but we think we shouldn’t have risked that loss.

Perhaps very few South Dakota farmers will ever even try to plant hemp. And perhaps the transition would have come with some challenges for government officials, law enforcement and others. We’ll probably find out eventually.

But until then, farmers in this state won’t be able to tap into a market that could help them dig out of considerable financial woes. That’s both penny and pound foolish.

Noem’s concerns about industrial hemp seem overblown. And her philosophy on the issue seems to buck that of most of the ag community and, indeed, most members of her own party.

South Dakota falls behind again. This time our farmers pay the price.

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Madison Daily Leader, Madison, March 13

Records created by or maintained by a government entity belong to the public.

Governments are a different institution than individuals or businesses. Governments are essentially “owned” by the public, and taxes levied on citizens fund operations of governments.

Sometimes, government officials consider public records as their own. If they have experience in business, health care or law (which have certain legal rights to confidentiality), they may think public records can be kept a secret.

In other cases, public officials or employees simply don’t know or haven’t considered the law. New employees or officials are sometimes sent to training to learn their jobs and responsibilities.

Fortunately, the recent trend in South Dakota favors the citizen. Laws have been passed by the legislature in recent years that clarify the open nature of public records. More local government employees are understanding open records laws.

Yet there is still a resistance among some officials and employees to make records available to the public. Lack of knowledge? Embarrassment of what is in the record? A power play to show who’s in charge?

The 2019 state Legislature passed another good open records law, which bans local governments from entering into confidential settlements. Let’s say a contractor or a local government didn’t fulfill its obligations in a project. A settlement was negotiated, and usually money exchanged hands.

In the past, local governments would argue that the contract they negotiated had a confidentiality clause in it, so details could not be known by the taxpayers who paid (or received) the money. The new law prevents the local government into entering into such a contract in the first place.

It’s another good step in sound government practices. We’re glad to see it take place, and we’re eager to see similar progress in the future.