The polarization surrounding the debate on whether industrial hemp should be legalized in South Dakota took center stage at the Dakotafest panel discussion which was held in Mitchell on Wednesday.
Most of the discussants spent time presenting different options that could be considered as regulatory measures if hemp were to be legalized in the state. A lot of time was also spent discussing whether the benefits of legalizing hemp outweighed the risks that such a decision carried.
Rep. Oren Lesmeister (R-Parade) argued that South Dakota will have the benefit of learning from other states, such as Colorado and North Dakota and Minnesota, which have had hemp programs for years. He added that South Dakota can identify and avoid the mistakes that such states made so that its own hemp industry takes off without a hitch.
Apart from South Dakota, only two other states (Mississippi and Idaho) haven’t legalized hemp to bring their state laws in lie with the federal 2018 Farm Bill.
Craig Price, the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety in South Dakota, rose to speak and said that opening the door to hemp would make law enforcement difficult since the state doesn’t have the technology to conduct roadside tests to confirm that a suspected substance is hemp and not marijuana.
The equipment that is currently available to law enforcement officers can only test for the presence of THC without indicating its concentration. While the technology that can ascertain the concentration of THC during a roadside test exists, it is very expensive and it would be hard to buy this testing equipment for every law enforcement officer out there.
Price also voiced a fear that legalizing industrial hemp would indirectly decriminalize marijuana either through legislative means or through a reduced interest among prosecutors to pursue marijuana cases as a result of the complexities and costs of telling it apart from hemp.
Anthony Cortilet, the in-charge of the hemp pilot program in Minnesota, agreed with Price that legalizing hemp would have the attendant effect of reducing the vigor with which marijuana cases are prosecuted.
However, Cortilet added that while South Dakota may be reluctant to legalize hemp and license farmers to grow it, there was a theoretical possibility that interested farmers could apply to the USDA for a license and there was nothing in the law to prevent that from happening.
Lesmeister concluded his presentation by urging all sides of the debate to do their research so that at the end of the day it is possible to make a data-driven decision for the good of everyone in South Dakota.
Industry experts feel that the last call made by Lesmeister is one that hemp industry actors like The Green Organic Dutchman Holdings Ltd. (TSX: TGOD) (OTCQX: TGODF) and Therma Bright Inc. (TSX.V: THRM) (OTC: THRBF) will agree with entirely since only accurate information will allow South Dakota to break free from the misconceptions and fears linked to allowing hemp in the state.
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