Republicans Maintain Status Quo; Kill Industrial Hemp Bill in South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. (Feb. 22, 2016) – After passing the House by a 57-11 margin on Feb. 4, five Republican senators killed a bill that would have legalized industrial hemp for commercial production and distribution in South Dakota.

Rep. Mike Verchio (R-Hill City) along with a bipartisan coalition of 39 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1054 (HB1054) earlier in the month. The bill would have legalized the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp for commercial purposes in South Dakota without federal approval being necessary to start the process. It read, in part:

"Upon meeting the requirements of sections 2 to 6, inclusive, of this Act, any person in this state may plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, sell, and buy industrial hemp (cannabis sativa l.) having no more than three-tenths of one percent tetrahydrocannabinol."

After being approved in overwhelming fashion by the House, HB1054 failed in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources on Feb. 18 by a 4-5 margin. Sen. Mike Vehle, Sen. Gary Cammack, Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, Sen. Arthur Rusch and Sen. Bob Ewing voted no on the measure, killing it and maintaining the status quo in South Dakota.

While Republicans may talk regularly about the benefits of the free market and limited government, it certainly wasn’t apparent based on the votes of these five legislators. They chose to go along with federal suggestions rather than open the marketplace to a proven agricultural commodity that could bring in thousands of sustainable jobs into the state. This is a huge missed opportunity for South Dakota farmers and consumers, as they have been needlessly deprived of prosperity and opportunity by misguided lawmakers.

The anti-commandeering doctrine, which has been affirmed by the Supreme Court on four separate occasions spanning over 200 years, clearly demonstrates that states are not required to implement nor enforce federal rules. They may choose to do so when it is in their best interest, but it is not mandatory. It is difficult to comprehend how stifling a robust industry is in the best interest of South Dakota residents, but the five Republican senators apparently thought differently.

In spite of the setback that has occurred in South Dakota, substantial progress is being made on the industrial hemp front throughout the country. Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maine, North Dakota and Vermont have set an important precedent by ignoring federal prohibition and legalizing industrial hemp production within their state borders. These states effectively thwarted the federal rules by refusing to abide by them, and no negative consequences have arisen as a result thus far. The feds likely do not have the power to enforce its industrial hemp prohibition by themselves, and bold state resistance is calling their bluff, so to speak.

Although South Dakota has let this opportunity to legalize industrial hemp slip through its grasp this year, hope is certainly not lost. The momentum is on our side. A bipartisan coalition is forming in South Dakota and throughout the country to push this issue forward to victory. Sen. Vehle, Sen. Cammack, Sen. Rampelberg, Sen. Rusch and Sen. Ewing may have won this round, but they will lose the war. Hemp freedom is around the corner, and obstinate legislators can only stand in its way for so long.