Governor Kristi Noem’s New Year’s Resolutions apparently include bringing flip-flops to work. After letting the Legislature re-assign the State of the Tribes Address from her tribal relations secretary to an actual tribal chairman without a peep, Governor Noem is now dropping her vow to veto any hemp legislation.
When I was sworn in as South Dakota’s governor in January, opposing industrial hemp and marijuana legalization weren’t on my list of key issues. But during the first legislative session of my tenure, I vetoed a measure to legalize industrial hemp. If the issue comes up this year, I will veto it again,
…Every experiment needs a control. I believe the social experiment our nation is conducting with highly potent legal weed will end poorly. But to create evidence for a comparison, we need leaders willing to stand up and say, ‘No’ [Gov. Kristi Noem, “Why I Won’t Support Legalizing Hemp,” Wall Street Journal, 2019.09.10; quoted in Governor’s Office press release, 2019.09.10].
Now Noem says “things have changed” and she wants to kick off Session by legalizing hemp:
Governor Kristi Noem today sent the legislature her “Four Guardrails” for a path forward on decriminalizing industrial hemp. She also released the following statement:
“Over the last year, we’ve had a long conversation about legalizing hemp, and everyone
knows that I don’t think it’s a good idea.
“Last year, I vetoed a bill that didn’t address concerns surrounding public safety, law enforcement, or funding. I asked the legislature to wait until we had direction from the federal government and a plan to address those concerns. Now since that time, things have changed. Federal guidelines have been put in place, a South Dakota tribe has been given the green light on production, and other states’ actions mean we need to address hemp transportation through our state. The legislative summer study also did great work, and they included some good ideas.
“Today, I am outlining for the legislature a path forward – four guardrails, if you will – on hemp. These include: 1) reliable enforcement standards; 2) responsible regulations regarding licensing, reporting, and inspections; 3) an appropriate plan for safe transportation; and 4) an adequate funding plan.
“Given all that we need to accomplish this session, if we can get this done in the coming weeks, it would be a good way to kick off this year’s legislative session” [Gov. Kristi Noem, press release, 2020.01.09].
Just last month, Governor Noem said “to set up a hemp program and make sure we have the law enforcement needs that we need” would cost “ten to twelve million dollars.” Now she says hemp regulation will cost $1.9 million to set up and $1.6 million in ongoing expenses:
Two scientists, three ag bureaucrats, four dogs, ten cops… oh yeah, and $50,000 for an ad campaign.
Notably absent from the Governor’s list of “things” that “have changed” is the most likely explanation for this political about-face: the Legislature had the votes to override a veto, and Noem didn’t want to that egg on her face. Majority Leader Lee Qualm (R-21/Platte) hasn’t said so, but he is saying the conditions Noem now says will make hemp legislation acceptable are already in a bill lawmakers have in the chute:
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said lawmakers already have a draft of the bill and planned to introduce it early in the legislative session that starts next week. He said the bill already meets most of the requirements laid out by Noem.
The bill would allow people to grow hemp if they have a minimum plot size of 5 acres and keep the THC level of the plant below 0.3%. THC is the compound that produces a high in marijuana. It would also allow hemp to be processed into CBD oil and other products. Producers would need to obtain a license from the state and a permit to transport it.
Qualm said the current version of the bill contains an emergency clause that would make it go into effect in March so that farmers could begin planting hemp seeds in the spring. But Qualm was not sure if that provision will survive. South Dakota would still need to get its hemp plans approved by the Department of Agriculture, which might not give farmers enough time to to take advantage of this year’s hemp season [Stephen Groves, “Noem Drops Opposition to Hemp, but Calls for ‘Guardrails’,” AP via Brookings Register, 2020.01.09].
Qualm’s bill is House Bill 1008, filed yesterday.
One thing that has definitely changed since Noem’s oh-so-recent and staunch declarations of opposition to hemp is that she’s under new management. In her Christmas Eve-Eve Massacre, Noem sacked her chief of staff and her communications chief and brought in a Beltway outsider to seniorly advise her. When Maggie Seidel declared Noem a “visionary” in the press last week, she may have meant she has gotten Noem to see the writing on the wall: Hemp is coming, the Legislature has the votes, and you look uninformed and irrational for opposing it. Opposing hemp also endangers our Legislative agenda. Flip now, and you look open-minded and sensible, you give wavering members of your party cover to vote for something popular without making you look weak, and you get this issue out of the way early so you can bury it in the news cycle of the budget and the other big things we need to fight for this Session.
Dang, that sounds like excellent advice. Maybe Noem’s returning Legislative shepherd Tony Venhuizen had something to do with that, too.
Noem’s complete flip-flop on hemp shows things have changed: she appears to have assertive and practical grown-ups managing her instead of toadies who can’t say no to their matron.