Differing Estimates of Legal Hemp Costs Put Legalization at Risk in North Dakota

Governor Kristi Noem is asking for a tidy sum for increased law enforcement.
North Carolina Farmers, Lawmakers Pushing for Hemp Legalization
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A tentative ceasefire between North Dakota’s previously anti-hemp governor and its lawmakers has been put into peril by two widely differing estimates on what it will take to legalize the plant in the state. 

On Tuesday, Governor Kristi Noem presented a plan to a legislative committee to put $3.5 million towards the cost of regulating hemp. But policy makers’ estimates were far more modest, ringing in at a total of $250,000 — a figure that does not take into account $80,000 they say the state will take in through licensing and fees for hemp farmers and processors. 

The difference in price tag comes down to the politicians’ visions of the consequences of legalizing hemp. Noem has long demonized the plant as a gateway into the legalization of marijuana, and says that drug crime statistics will rise if the plant is regulated. 

Noem’s proposal is to hire 15 full time staffers and four police dogs in order to beef up drug-related law enforcement. 

She also affirmed the need for new equipment to store and test drugs. Surely the governor has been paying attention to the trials and tribulations of other states that have legalized hemp and discovered belatedly that they have left themselves unable to efficiently tell the difference between it and marijuana. In states like Texas and Florida, this has led to an inability to police small time marijuana possession cases, as the cost of figuring out whether individuals are carrying the psychoactive and illegal form of the plant is prohibitive. 

Noem and Hemp

The governor voted for the 2018 US Farm Bill that legalized hemp production when she was in US Congress, but soon after stated her resolve to veto any hemp bill that came her way. 

However, by the beginning of 2020 she was singing a different tune, saying that she could stomach a hemp bill that included what she called “four guardrails”; enforcement, regulation, transportation permitting, and funding. Her office even helped author the current bill being considered by legislators. 

But now that fourth guardrail is in question. Critics say that this was Noem’s plan all along, a cop out to avoid taking action on hemp agriculture. 

Should she veto the bill, many would see it as a loss for the farming economy of North Dakota, where there is ample land considered ideal for hemp production. 

Though the difference in cost estimates was jarring, the hemp legislation’s champions remained positive that they would be able to push it through. 

“I know we can cover it the first year for fairly minimal costs,” said House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, who sponsored the bill. “And then we’ll have to revisit it next year and see what happens.”

A meeting between hemp advocates and the governor’s office is planned for Wednesday to further discuss the bill. 

North Dakota is having a big year for cannabis-related issues. In November, voters will decide on plans for the legalization of both medicinal and recreational cannabis.

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