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Vargo Not Convinced by Ravnsborg That CBD Possession Prosecutable

I wanted to headline this post, “Rapid City—Sanctuary City for Hemp!” but that would be overtagging. Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo hasn’t declared amnesty for anyone vending or using CBD oil or the other hemp products that so befuddle and befear our Governor; he’s just not sure busting hemp users would hold up in court:

“At this point, I have not been convinced that we can prosecute those cases,” Vargo said in an email to the Journal. He’s also not convinced the products are legal, he said in a followup phone call. “It’s most fair to say that I have not made up my mind one way or the other.”

Vargo said he can’t make a decision on whether his office will prosecute until he has a better understanding of the law. He also said he’s unaware of anyone being arrested for possession of hemp-derived CBD oil in Pennington County [Arielle Zionts, “AG’s Statements on Hemp, CBD Oil Cause Confusion for Local Businessman, State’s Attorney,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.04.14].

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg clarified—

Just stop right there. When we see “Ravnsborg” and “clarified” together, we should know a punchline is coming.

On March 25, A.G. Ravnsborg said that, the federal Farm Bill notwithstanding, “hemp and CBD oils remain illegal in South Dakota.” During last week’s snowstorm (which Zionts says kept Ravnsborg himself incommunicado), Ravnsborg’s chief of staff Tim Bormann reiterated, “Hemp, whether industrial or not, along with CBD oil, in any form, is illegal.” Zionts notes that Bormann’s selective citation of statute explains why the situation is not as clear as Ravnsborg’s office asserts:

Bormann cited South Dakota Codified Law 22-42-1(7) which says, in part, marijuana is “all parts of any plant genus cannabis, whether growing or not, in its natural and unaltered state” while SDCL 34-20B-1(12) says, in part, marijuana is “all parts of any plant of the genus cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant or its seeds.”

“Hemp is a plant of the genus cannabis and as such falls squarely under both definitions,” Bormann said. He said hemp-derived CBD oil is illegal since it’s made from the plant’s flowers.

Bormann did not cite a part of the second law that says marijuana does “not include fiber produced from the mature stalks of the plant, or oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, or the resin when extracted from any part of the plant or cannabidiol, a drug product approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration” [Zionts, 2019.04.14].

Clearly my hemp sneakers are not illegal, contrary to Ravnsborg’s and Bormann’s assertions. How much else might they be getting wrong in their sitting up and barking for hemp-phobic Governor Noem? Since we can’t count on Jason Ravnsborg to understand or explain the law, we’ll have to wait for real lawmen like State’s Attorney Vargo to do the real legal research and come up with a solid answer.

Rapid City may not yet be a sanctuary city for hemp products, but it may be a sanctuary of reasonable interpretation and application of hemp law.


  1. leslie 2019-04-16

    These prosecutors’ zeal to cage rather than understand medical necessity of addiction rehabilitation is a crass side-step of real human problems created by an ignorant court system. A prosecutor or a judge says to him/herself at the local watering hole awaiting a jury verdict, “i can hold my liquor” so low character addicts deserve to have their families lives torn apart by a government ignorant of addiction medical science.

  2. SDBlue 2019-04-16

    New Approach SD reports 15 bills this session making it easier to get access to alcohol. Sioux Falls is getting a 20,000 sq. ft. liquor super-store. It would appear booze has been added to the GOP’s holy trinity of guns, god and abortion. But easy access to a plant with a host of industrial and medicinal benefits is strictly forbidden. It will be interesting to see what happens to the 57 year old Alaska man arrested at the SF Airport for a harmless CBD product our state considers a “controlled substance”.

  3. mike from iowa 2019-04-16

    Dakota wingnuts act like direct descendants of Salem, Mass. There is a witch behind every Democrat and tree, bush, shrub, mountain, etc.

  4. Debbo 2019-04-16

    Excellent comment Mike. SDGOP behavior is pushing the boundaries of “absurd.” They’ve already completely crushed “shameless” flat.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-16

    UPDATE: Rapid City really is a sanctuary city for hemp. Vargo called a press conference this afternoon and dropped the CBD bomb on Ravnsborg and Noem:

    In a decision that contradicts the opinion of the state’s attorney general, the top prosecutor in Pennington County said Tuesday he has no plans at this time to prosecute hemp-derived CBD oil cases.

    “CBDs themselves are not scheduled and not marijuana under our statutes,” Mark Vargo, Pennington County state’s attorney, told the Journal.

    Vargo said products such as purses or shirts made of hemp are also legal, but he doesn’t know anyone who’s questioned that.

    Both Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom and Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris said they will follow the direction of Vargo.

    “We will not be arresting people for CBD oil,” Thom said. “I defer to the local state’s attorney regarding his opinion on CBD oil. Ultimately, either the courts and/or the Legislature may have to provide further clarification on the issue.”

    “At this time, we will not take enforcement action,” Jegeris said [Arielle Zionts, “Pennington County State’s Attorney Says He Won’t Prosecute CBD Oil Cases,” Rapid City Journal, 2019.04.16].

    Holy cow!

  6. Debbo 2019-04-17

    Kudos to Vargo!

  7. Tim 2019-04-17

    Well, I’ll be darned, it’s not very often anything considered “reasonable” ever comes out of Rapid City.

  8. jerry 2019-04-17

    Game on I guess. What will Sioux Falls do? My guess is nothing. Ol’ Ravansborg just got whooped. Life is funny like that. You know, if you get enough county’s being intelligent, we might be able to see some changes here

  9. NVargo 2019-04-17

    May be a reason to consider relocating to RC.

  10. Mark 2019-04-19

    The Western tradewinds from Oregon
    Washington, California, Nevada and
    Colorado must have blown into Rapid City briefly.
    I’ll bet that all the rides in Kristyland
    are off the rails today!

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