Cannabis remains a contentious topic in Wisconsin, be it for medicinal use or full legalization. But Wisconsin’s 2017 Act 100 and the federal 2018 Farm Bill made it legal to grow industrial hemp and Wisconsin farmers have taken an interest in the program.
“Hemp is Wisconsin’s comeback crop,” said Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stephens Point), author of SB-188 which would reauthorize the fledgling pilot program that permits growing hemp in Wisconsin. The measure would move toward making the program permanent and add technical regulations to bring it in line with new federal law.
The bipartisan ‘Growing Opportunities Act’ passed the State Senate on Tuesday on a 30-2 vote with only Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) and Sen. Duey Stroebel (R- Saukville) voting no. Next it moves to the State Assembly.
“I was under the false impression that hemp and marijuana were the same plant,” wrote Testin in a column printed in the Tomah Journal in May. “Then, shortly after taking office, I started researching the subject. I discovered hemp’s rich history in Wisconsin, its diverse uses and the potential it holds for farmers, processors, retailers and consumers.”
Hemp is used in clothing, biofuels, lotions, rope and foods, among other items. Hemp paper was even used to draft the Declaration of Independence, according to the national nonprofit industry advocacy group Vote Hemp, which tracks state and federal law and policy. The group reported that 1,855 acres of hemp were grown in Wisconsin last year.
According to: “Hemp is as American as the Constitution of the United States,” Vote Hemp declares on its website. “The hemp farming of the 1700s established it as a staple crop where American Presidents and plantation owners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson actively promoted it and colonists were required to grow it.”
Regulated and overseen by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), hemp is from the same plant family as marijuana and it looks and even smells like it, but it has so little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that you cannot get high on hemp.
Hemp bill co-author Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) praised the bill for protecting local control by keeping regulation at the state level rather than giving it to the federal government. She described it as a bill that will help all parts of Wisconsin.
“Hemp is providing opportunities for rural and urban entrepreneurs alike, and many of my constituents are emerging as leaders in this industry,” said Taylor after the vote. “Americans already consume millions of imported hemp products — that’s money that can and should be spent here in our state of Wisconsin, and my city of Milwaukee.”
DATCP’s industrial hemp licensing page provides information on farming that includes the need for a license, renewed annually, to grow or process hemp with a fee of $150 up to $1,000, depending on the acreage. The applicant, or the operations manager if the applicant is a business, must pass a background check that shows no state or federal criminal drug convictions.
According to DATCP’s hemp webpage, applications will be accepted for the 2020 growing season late this year or early in 2020. When the time comes, the department will make “a very public announcement” when the dates for 2020 licensing are determined.
“With the right encouragement,” wrote Testin, “Wisconsin can and will lead the nation in hemp production again. That’s something we can all get behind.”