A bill with bipartisan support will head to Gov. Scott Walker to sign into law.
By Julia Clark-Riddell
On November 9, the Wisconsin State Assembly voted unanimously to legalize industrial hemp, becoming the 32nd state in the U.S. to legalize the plant.
The bill will allow the state to create licenses through the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for the growing and processing of industrial hemp. Because the State Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill on November 7, the bill will now head to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk to be signed into law. Advocates expect that he will sign.
The bill will not allow people with drug convictions to receive the licenses, and all of the final hemp product will be required to pass tests at independent testing facilities that prove it is less than 0.3 percent THC. When the bill was before the Senate, it had language limiting the hemp to below 1 percent THC, but then the Senate changed it to 0.3 percent THC to match the federal definition of hemp.
One of the bill’s authors, Rep. Jesse Kremer, said that the creation of a legal industrial hemp industry in time for the next growing season would be crucial for the state’s economy.
“As recently as World War II, Wisconsin farmers were leaders in producing industrial hemp for things like rope in the war effort, and because of a mistaken identity association with its recreational cousin, this industrial and nutritional product was pulled out of farmers’ fields, and thereby farmers lost one option for their financial viability.”
“These are new high tech jobs, and we can be creating a new industry in Wisconsin in our rural areas — I think it’s huge,” Kremer told the Badger Herald.
Wisconsin’s neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota have already legalized industrial hemp. None of these states have recreational cannabis, and Kremer — who has said he would vote against a medical marijuana bill — said that he believes legalizing hemp can stem the public pressure to legalize marijuana, as hemp can be grown to make CBD.
“If you want to keep recreational marijuana out of your state, bring industrial hemp in,” Kremer said. “This is a whole separate plant, a totally separate crop.”
Kara O’Conner, the government relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, also bemoaned hemp’s relation to cannabis.
“As recently as World War II, Wisconsin farmers were leaders in producing industrial hemp for things like rope in the war effort, and because of a mistaken identity association with its recreational cousin, this industrial and nutritional product was pulled out of farmers’ fields, and thereby farmers lost one option for their financial viability,” O’Conner told The Cap Times.
Lawmakers such as Kremer have been espousing the benefits of hemp production for the state economy, but it likely will be awhile until Wisconsin’s hemp economy picks up. The 2017 Vote Hemp report found that Wisconsin’s neighbors barely grew much hemp at all in 2017. Minnesota grew just over 1,200 acres, while Indiana grew only five acres and Michigan and Illinois grew none.