YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — One of the South Dakota lawmakers behind a failed effort to ease restrictions on hemp production said he expects the issue to come before the Legislature again next year.
A resolution urging the federal government to reconsider hemp's status as a controlled substance and recognize its viability as a crop was approved overwhelmingly in the state House but failed in the Senate last week.
"Next year, we'll probably see another bill come forward," said Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, who co-authored this year's resolution with Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle. "As people get educated on it and understand more, I see it not being a problem in the future."
Hemp is a non-hallucinogenic cousin to marijuana, but federal law doesn't distinguish between the two. That means farmers can't grow the plant that can be used for a variety of products, from rope to lotion.
"It's a pretty versatile crop that, if you had it here in South Dakota, it could spur further agriculture-related businesses, just for the processing of it," Nelson told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (http://bit.ly/NrjpYh ).
A provision in the new federal farm bill allows for research plots of hemp in the 10 states that permit its cultivation. North Dakota is one, but South Dakota isn't. North Dakota State University in Fargo has long wanted to research the crop.
Peter Sexton, supervisor of the South Dakota State University Research Farm near Beresford, said he questions whether hemp could be a viable crop.
"I know there's a market on the fibers for making cloth and rope, the seeds can be crushed for oil, but I don't really think those things are really going to be competitive with synthetic sources," Sexton said. "There's a lot of things that can be grown when you're looking at new crops, but the limiting factor is the economics of whether there's a big enough market to justify the startup costs."
Retail sales of imported hemp products in the U.S. total about $500 million annually, according to the Vote Hemp nonprofit advocacy group.
Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/