Will hemp soon be legal in South Dakota?

Note: Dakota Rural Action member Danny Dyck and Senator Troy Heinert, who is helping sponsor this legislation, will be on the Dakota Rural Voices radio show Thursday, January 21, at 1pmCT on KSDJ 90.7 in Brookings. You can listen in here: http://www.ksdjradio.com or stream KSDJ live on your phone, tablet, or smart TV via the free TuneIn App

by Bill Powers

HB 1054 would legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in South Dakota. Hemp cultivation dates from at least 10,000 years ago in Southeast Asia. It has been a common cultivar throughout the world, including Europe, Russia, and North America. George Washington grew hemp and encouraged its cultivation as a cash crop. Industrial hemp is already produced in Canada and Europe, France being the largest producer worldwide. About 100,000 acres are presently cultivated in Canada. During WWII the US government encouraged the cultivation of hemp to replace Manilla hemp as a necessary component of the war effort, resulting in the short film “Hemp for Victory.”

Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), making it useless as a recreational drug. Marijuana has a THC content of 3% – 20%, indicating that one would have to smoke from 10 to 20 hemp cigarettes to get high. The economic benefits from the cultivation of industrial hemp are significant. Recent results in Alberta indicate that the average net profit for hemp cultivation is about $516/acre, while that for corn and beans hovers around $300/acre. Both the straw and seed have significant commercial value, with additional commercial applications still under investigation.  The 2014 Farm Bill paved the way for legalized cultivation of industrial hemp for research in those states where hemp cultivation is legal.

HB 1054 requires any producer of industrial hemp to obtain a permit from the state and that only certified seed be used to guarantee its THC content. The fields producing hemp shall be subject to testing by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA), and the purchaser of any harvested hemp will be reported to the SDDA. The cost of testing will be paid for by the applicant at a cost of $5/acre. These stipulations appear to reflect those in place in Canada.

Some are concerned that industrial hemp production could conceal marijuana production. There are at least two reasons why this is unlikely. First, if someone were to try to conceal marijuana production, it would seem that the last place you would want to do it is in a field that is being monitored for THC levels by state officials. It would make far more sense to try to conceal such cultivation in a field of rye, buckwheat, or any other tall grain. There is already ample evidence that marijuana is being grown in corn fields throughout the mid-west. Secondly, if you did want to grow marijuana in a field of industrial hemp, pollination by the industrial hemp would result in an inferior marijuana with a lower THC content.

Finally, even should the state legalize industrial hemp cultivation, significant hurdles are still in place. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) requires that anyone cultivating industrial hemp receive a permit from the DEA, and this remains the case even in states like North Dakota and Montana where hemp production is legal. Despite the recent provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, the DEA continues resist granting permission to any research institution to grow industrial hemp. On April 28, 2015, Purdue became the first research institution to receive such a grant. Despite this resistance, the first step under the 2014 Farm Bill is state legalization of hemp production. The economic benefits of hemp production are significant. Its influence upon local economies could be promising as new local industry would be established for subsequent processing of both the seed and straw. Moreover, hemp cultivation can serve as a valuable component in a crop rotation program.

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