PIERRE, S.D. — In her continued battle against hemp, South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem now says she will veto any hemp legalization bill in the 2020 legislative session should it land on her desk.

In a Monday, Sept. 9, op-ed penned for the Wall Street Journal, Noem said "states that have legalized hemp have essentially legalized marijuana as well," and that any attempt to legalize hemp in South Dakota will be met with her veto branding iron.

Noem's fierce opposition to the crop is not new. She vetoed House Bill 1191 in March, and an attempt to override her veto was four votes shy of passing in the Senate. But spokesperson Kristin Wileman confirmed Tuesday, Sept. 10, that Noem's op-ed was the first time she has publicly declared that she will veto any similar attempt come 2020.

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said Tuesday that he was aware of Noem's concerns with hemp, but that he was he was "surprised she drew the line in the sand this early on." With 2020's session still four months away, he said it's "a little premature" to write off the concept entirely.

Qualm has been an outspoken supporter of hemp since HB 1191 was introduced during 2019's session and is chairing the Legislature's summer study on the crop. Qualm said the summer study will continue despite Noem's op-ed, and that the legislators still plan to introduce a hemp legalization bill for 2020.

Unless the bill has an emergency clause, it wouldn't go into effect until July 2020 — too late in the growing season for any hemp to be planted that year. If the bill goes into law, the earliest hemp could be cultivated in South Dakota is 2021.

Meanwhile, hemp was legalized at the federal level with the 2018 Farm Bill, which Noem, a U.S. representative at the time, voted yes on. Forty-seven states have decriminalized the crop, including all of South Dakota's neighboring states, and it is being transported through the state.

"I don't think we should wait any longer," Qualm said. "I think we need to get this on the books."

Wileman in a Tuesday written statement called Noem's opposition a "principled policy stance," and that she wants South Dakota to be "the prime example of a state committed to fighting drugs."

"As other states begin to see the social impacts of legalized marijuana and wonder if there is another way, she wants South Dakota to be ready to show them there is," Wileman wrote. "The pendulum on legalized weed will eventually start to swing back the other way."

Hemp is not a drug. It is related to, but distinct from marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp does not contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to induce psychoactive effects, or a high, when ingested. It is primarily used to produce material such as clothing or rope, as a high-protein food source or additive, or to extract cannabidiol (CBD oil), which some consume as an alternative medicine.

By definition, hemp contains 0.3 percent THC or less. Noem's concern is that law enforcement cannot determine THC content with the naked eye or a roadside test, so hemp could be mistaken for marijuana and vice-versa. She said THC tests would overburden state crime labs and prosecutors, ultimately making the state's marijuana laws (which are some of the strictest in the country) "unenforceable."

But Qualm said whether South Dakotans themselves can produce hemp, interstate commerce allows drivers to transport hemp produced elsewhere through the state, and questions on roadside enforcement still stand. A hemp bill could answer those questions, he said, by establishing clear requirements for hemp transportation papers.

Qualm said he is hopeful hemp is legal in the state next July. Former-state Sen. Justin Cronin, who was one of 13 senators who voted against overriding Noem's veto, resigned in August. Noem appointed now-Sen. John Lake, R-Gettysburg, to Cronin's seat. As a state representative in the 2019 session, Lake voted yea on overriding Noem's veto.

That leaves three more senators to flip in order to reach the two-thirds override threshold. Qualm said Tuesday that in conversations he has had with other state senators, "it's less than that at this point."