South Dakota tribe sues USDA over delayed hemp regulations

An American Indian tribe in South Dakota has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to approve its plan for hemp regulation on tribal lands.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe claims that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue violated the 2018 Farm Bill when he did not approve the tribe’s plan within 60 days, the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls reported.

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, states and tribes may present plans for regulating hemp cultivation to the USDA, which has up to 60 days to approve or reject the plans.

But the USDA put the process on hold in February when it said it would not review state or tribal plans until after the federal rulemaking is complete.

The agency said it planned to finalize rules in the fall, in time for the 2020 growing season.

The Flandreau tribe said it submitted its plan on March 8 and informed the USDA it was planning for a 2019 hemp crop.

According to the lawsuit, “a delay in approval of the tribal plan and unlawfully withholding tribal authority curtails receipt of the tribal revenue from hemp production at grave cost to tribal members, putting tribal members’ health, safety, and welfare at risk.”

To date, seven states and eight tribes have submitted their plans to the USDA.

The agency’s deputy administrator of specialty crops, Sonia Jimenez, who is overseeing the hemp rulemaking process, noted in an affidavit filed for the case that the 35-day government shutdown through Jan. 25 delayed the agency’s progress with the hemp program.

The tribe said the law requires the USDA to approve plans within 60 days, regardless of whether regulations are in place.