Governor Kristi Noem pays her daughter Kennedy $51,250 a year to analyze policy for her. Governor Noem has another five policy advisors, four executive assistants, and three communicators to help her dig through all the data available to inform her policy statements. Add Chief of Policy and Communications Joshua Shields, and the Noem Administration is paying over a million dollars to advisors to make sure the Governor receives, publicizes, and spells correctly the most useful and accurate policy information.
For a million bucks, you’d expect a gubernatorial policy statement in as prominent a venue as the Wall Street Journal to be a quadruply-checked and reliable piece of information. Instead, KELO-TV’s Michael Geheren, who is lucky if he’s getting paid a twentieth for his journalism of what the Governor’s monster research and writing staff gets, takes less than a day to read Governor Noem’s reassertion in the national press that hemp is bad and finds it rife with questionable and outright false claims.
Geheren identifies eleven key claims in Noem’s anti-hemp essay. He finds three to be accurate:
- “Across the country, states that have legalized hemp are struggling to enforce marijuana regulations.”
- “Hemp and marijuana look and smell the same.”
- “Law enforcement official tells Ohio station it’s not possible for a human being to distinguish between hemp and marijuana. “
Geheren labels three other claims “inaccurate”:
- “Police officers can’t tell the difference between them during a traffic stop.”
While it is difficult to distinguish by just looking at the plant, there are tools law enforcement can use to determine if there is THC.
Virginia is at least one state using field tests that allow officers to tell the difference between the two in just minutes.
…Gov. Noem is correct when saying South Dakota officers don’t currently have the tools to tell the difference. Her administration demonstrated that earlier this year.
However, a field test is available and being used by law enforcement in the United States – so the claim overall is false [Michael Geheren, “Fact-Checking Noem’s Wall Street Journal Letter,” KELO-TV, 2019.09.10].
- “A full crime analysis results take weeks.”
In Omaha, the crime lab the city works with takes 24 hours to four days to complete tests, according to KETV-TV.
The Omaha Lab has a GC-mass spectrometer.
“This is an established, well-proven scientific method,” said Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse to KETV [Geheren, 2019.09.10].
- “Without the ability to test the level of THC in a plant, labs can’t provide useful scientific evidence for use in court.”
Labs can test the level of THC in a plant, as outlined in claims 6, 7 and 8 [Geheren, 2019.09.10].
Geheren questions four other claims:
- “Many crime labs are unable to distinguish between the two plants.”
Many crime labs can do this testing. For example, in Omaha the crime lab can detect it. The City of Omaha uses University of Nebraska Medical Center as its crime lab.
A search of news stories from across the country shows many labs have the equipment; they just need to validate their procedures of testing.
- “Crime labs can detect THC, but can’t determine how much is there.”
The DEA has developed a way to test for THC in the plant. Basically, it will test for THC (above 1%).
Texas plans to use this method in 2020.
- “The technology exists, but it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In response, Geheren cites a Texas system that costs $30,000 plus a software subscription of $20 to $50 per test and a Minnesota system that costs $80 per test.
- “Since Texas passed an industrial hemp law in June, prosecutors have dropped hundreds of marijuana cases and have stopped accepting new ones until more-accurate tests are available.”
Geheren responds that “This isn’t a universal policy across Texas.” He notes that one county is continuing prosecutions, two counties are requiring lab tests to prove illegal THC levels, and another says cases are being placed on standby, not dropped.
Finally, Geheren brands as “opinion” Governor Noem’s claim that “Any case of suspected marijuana possession in states with legal hemp requires this expensive and time-consuming tests.” This argument against legalizing hemp in South Dakota is non-unique, says Geheren, because the 2018 Farm Bill that Noem voted for already authorizes transportation of hemp across South Dakota and anywhere else in the United States.
Three claims accurate, three claims false, and four claims easily shaken—if Team Noem were playing baseball, that record might get them re-upped with the Twins. But in any real job, 30% reliability is grounds for remedial training, if not dismissal.
That’s not a call for impeachment, legislators. Just let Governor Noem and her enormous staff sit there in their wrongness and be wrong. But when you take up the industrial hemp debate again this January, you can dismiss the claims of the Governor and her blue-badged lobbyists and rely on the results of your own research and testimony from the public. Governor Noem may have questions, but she clearly doesn’t have (or want) reliable answers.