Ellis: Noem’s victory on hemp had flair, but was only temporaryJonathan Ellis, Sioux Falls Argus LeaderPublished 1:07 p.m. CT March 14, 2019
Gov. Kristi Noem (Photo: Submitted)
Within minutes of what might go down as the biggest political victory in her first legislative session as governor, Gov. Kristi Noem released a video on social media in which she dunked on her opponents.
Her veto of a bill that would have legalized industrial hemp had just been sustained in the state Senate, shortly after the House had voted to override Noem’s veto. Noem had won, thanks to a thin four-vote cushion when the Senate failed to muster a two-thirds majority.
The governor had beaten an odd alliance of farmers, hippies, newspaper columnists, Republican lawmakers, Twitter trolls, Democratic lawmakers and business people. They had argued that hemp should be legalized, given its potential for economic benefit to the state’s ailing agriculture industry.
The latest Farm Bill Boondoggle passed by the federal government in December allows states to regulate hemp production, and other states are jumping into the market. At the same time Noem was vetoing the hemp bill here, her counterpart in Wyoming was signing a bill there.
But, as Noem made clear in her veto message to the Legislature, “South Dakota must stand as an example for the rest of the country, not simply go along with others.”
And so, an example we shall be. An example of what, you fill in the blank.
In the victory video, Noem had the swagger and self-assurance of someone who is secure in her belief. The video included a branding iron with the word “Veto,” a cool touch for an ag-state governor.
Still, her reasons for the veto aren’t beyond critique. For example, she noted that CBD oil, a hemp derivative used in health creams and other products, had not been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. But if FDA approval is your standard, then you’d better shut down all the health food stores and criminalize vitamin cabinets. The Glucosamine I take to keep my knees in running shape would send me to jail because, as the label points out, the FDA has not evaluated its health benefits.
She noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t finalize national hemp rules until later this year, so to her thinking, there was no point in putting together a state plan. However, had the state passed the hemp bill this year, it wouldn’t have gone into effect until July 1, and South Dakota would have been ready in 2020, well after the national standards are in place.
An aside here, is it odd when self-avowed small-government conservatives lean on vast federal bureaucracies like FDA and USDA to justify their positions?
Finally, Noem argued that hemp is a Trojan horse to legalize its cannabis cousin, marijuana. And Noem is no fan of legalized marijuana.
“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,” she wrote in her veto message.
Indeed, she noted that the “overwhelming number of contacts” she received on the issue were from pro-marijuana activists.
On that front, I feel sorry for her. In my experience, the most ardent supporters of a cause are often its worst spokespersons. Marijuana in Colorado likely would have been legalized years before it finally was if hadn’t been for some of the burnouts pushing the issue. Or take firearms: The people who walk around in public with their AR-15s and other long rifles to make us “comfortable” with firearms do their cause no good. As someone who enjoys shooting firearms and thinks it makes sense to legalize marijuana, it’s painful to watch.
So Noem has stood athwart the hemp movement – already passed in 41 other states – and yelled stop. She wins.
But it’s worth remembering that her victory came against a tide of support within her own party. Their passions on the issue certainly vary, but a majority of the Legislature’s Republican lawmakers voted for hemp.
And they will do so again. Hemp will be back next year – by then South Dakota might be the only state in the union left not to legalize its cultivation – and Noem will have to decide if it’s worth fighting a second round.