Hemp, crypto bills fall as South Dakota legislators sustain vetoes by Gov. Kristi Noem

PIERRE — Lawmakers debated the future of money and the amount of an intoxicating compound that should be allowed in industrial hemp, but they failed to override any of Gov. Kristi Noem’s vetoes Monday at the Capitol.

None of the four bills up for override votes received the necessary two-thirds majority. Legislators also failed to override a veto earlier this month, which means all five of Gov. Kristi Noem’s vetoes from this winter’s legislative session are sustained. Monday was the session’s final day.

The hemp bill vetoed by Noem would have increased the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (known as THC, the cannabis compound that gets users high when present in sufficient amounts) that can be present in hemp oil during processing. The bill would have increased the limit from 0.3% to 5%.

Opponents of the bill argued that increasing the THC limit would lead to an increase in the potency and availability of products used to get high. They expressed concern that the bill would allow more THC into hemp-derived products, which have become increasingly popular.

Proponents of the bill said the higher limit would only apply to the temporarily higher THC levels that are an unavoidable part of the production process.

“This bill will not, will not, will not allow crops to leave the field above 0.3%,” said Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade.

Lesmeister told South Dakota Searchlight that the higher limit would allow farmers to grow more hemp strains and avoid burdensome regulations, boosting the state’s agricultural industry.

Opponents of the bill remained skeptical and argued that the bill was a thinly veiled attempt to legalize greater amounts of THC.

“It’s a back door to getting high,” said Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, R-Spearfish.

A House override of the veto failed with 32 yes votes compared to 35 no votes.

Crypto-money concerns

Noem vetoed an update of the Uniform Commercial Code, a set of rules that govern commercial transactions in the state, over concerns about its language regarding cryptocurrencies. 

She said in a veto letter that the bill would make it more difficult to use cryptocurrency and would open the door for the federal government to establish a central bank digital currency, which she said would amount to government overreach. 

Proponents of the bill argued that updating the code is necessary to keep up with changing banking practices and to ensure that South Dakota’s financial sector remains competitive.

Opponents of the bill, however, sustained Noem’s concerns.

Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish, said there are several steps to losing freedom.

“First of all, you put us $32 trillion in debt, then you default on that debt, then you implement a central bank digital currency,” he said.

The House override failed with 30 yes votes and 37 no votes.

Vetoes sustain in the Senate

The Senate also sustained two vetoes. One bill aimed to allow underage students taking a brewing course to sip and spit the alcoholic beverages they make, while the other would have increased the penalty to a felony when students attack a school employee.

When Noem vetoed the brewing bill, her letter said the bill would create problems for law enforcement. In her veto letter about the school-assault bill, she said it would open the door for other professions to seek similar special treatment.

Rep. David Wheeler, R-Huron, agreed with Noem’s position on the school-assault bill. 

“More and more people become felons, and have a felony record when it’s almost always misdemeanor conduct,” Wheeler said. “Don’t let the list get longer.”

The school assault bill received a simple majority of support, but the 20-15 vote fell short of the 24 votes required to reach a two-thirds majority. The student-alcohol bill received only five yes votes for an override and 30 no votes

Replacing ‘he’ with ‘governor’ 

Additionally Monday, Noem – the state’s first female governor – signed a bill that removes pronouns from the law in reference to official positions.

The bill, which passed with bipartisan support in the Legislature, will replace pronouns like “he” with titles that reflect the positions themselves. For example, instead of referring to the governor as “he,” as the law currently does, the bill will require that the governor be referred to as “the governor” in all official documents and communications.