A federal judge has denied the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe’s request to stop the United States Department of Agriculture from interfering with its production of industrial hemp.
The ruling and legal proceedings are the first steps the tribe can take to try and get approval for growing hemp on its land. The tribe has said it will take further legal action and will work with USDA on the issue but time is running out.
On March 8, the tribe filed an application with the USDA to grow industrial hemp on about 360 acres in Moody County. Under the application, the federal government had to decide within 60 days and couldn’t deny the application if the seven criteria that are required were met, said Seth Pearman, tribal lawyer.
On May 24, the tribe filed a complaint against USDA and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, asking the judge to intervene. The government had not ruled on the tribe’s application.
In a court hearing last week, Pearman argued that the USDA is not following its congressional mandate to rule within 60 days. Hemp has been removed from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s oversite and is part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The tribe has plans to grow the crop this year but the window to plant is getting shorter.
“We have no recourse against the government if we do not get the relief sought here,” Pearman said. “The effect on the tribe is devastating.”
In a court hearing last week, the government argued that the agriculture department hasn’t written the rules and regulations for the consistent growing of industrial hemp so it can’t rule on the tribe’s application.
Ellie Bailey, the government’s lawyer, said the ag department, for example, needs ways to consistently test the hemp and to destroy crops if the plants test too high for THC, which is the compound in marijuana that gives a person a high. Those rules haven’t been written and the tribe knew in February that the rules weren’t going to be ready, she said.
Judge Karen Schreier sided with the government, saying that the 60 days would start after rules and regulations are issued, which the agriculture department has said will happen this fall. While agreeing that the tribe will see economic harm, the agriculture department’s job is to transition from drug enforcement to agriculture so that states and tribes can produce hemp, she said.
In the meantime, the tribe has not been able to plant hemp on the acres it has set aside for this year’s growing season. If the issue isn’t resolved within a short time, the tribe will have to wait a year and will miss out on $17 million in revenue from a market that others already are getting into, Pearman said.
Money earned by the tribe pays for important programs, including senior meals, he said.
The fields dedicated to hemp production are north of Flandreau along Highway 13, north of 227th Street, and south of Flandreau near S.D. Highway 34 and 480th Avenue.
Hemp is not genetically the same as marijuana and is used for a variety of products, including cosmetics, clothing, personal care items, paper, plastics, construction materials and more.