MADISON, Wisc. (Oct. 25, 2017) – Last week, a Wisconsin Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would legalize commercial industrial hemp production in the state, setting the foundation to end federal prohibition in effect.

A bipartisan coalition of 12 senators introduced Senate Bill 119 (SB119) in March. Under the proposed law, industrial hemp would be treated as an agricultural crop subject to regulation by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Under SB119, the department would create a license authorizing the planting, growing, cultivating, harvesting, and processing of industrial hemp for “commercial purposes or research.”

The licensing program would be “shall issue,” meaning the department would be required to issue a license to any person meeting statutory requirements. Without this section, the department could deny applications for a myriad of reasons.

SB119 would require DATCP to promulgate rules for the administration of the licensing law, as well as for certifying industrial hemp and for developing programs for researching industrial hemp genetics.

The bill authorizes licensees to import, sell and retain industrial hemp seed. It also creates a structure to develop certified seed in the state. These are important provisions that would encourage the development of a hemp industry in Wisconsin. The federal government currently restricts the acquisition of seed. Encouraging seed development within the state would incentivize the hemp market.

The law does not require the state hemp program to conform to any federal regulations. How the program operates in practice will ultimately depend on how the DATCP formulates the rules.

On Oct, 18, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism recommended SB119 for approval by a 9-0 vote.

There is a companion bill making its way through the Wisconsin House.

FEDERAL FARM BILL

Early in 2014, President Barack Obama signed a new farm bill into law, which included a provision allowing a handful of states to begin limited research programs growing hemp. The “hemp amendment”

…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oil-seed and fiber varieties of Cannabis, for academic or agricultural research purposes, but it applies only to states where industrial hemp farming is already legal under state law.

In short, current federal law authorizes the farming of hemp – by research institutions, or within state pilot programs – for research only. Farming for commercial purposes by individuals and businesses remains prohibited. AB183 ignores federal prohibition and authorizes commercial farming and production anyway.

OTHER STATES

By rejecting any need for federal approval, SB119 sets the stage to nullify the federal hemp ban in practice. Wisconsin could join with other states – including Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, California and Vermont – that have simply ignored federal prohibition and legalized industrial hemp production within their state borders.

While prospective hemp growers would still have to take federal law into consideration, by eliminating the state requirement for federal permission, the proposed Wisconsin law would clear away a major obstacle to widespread commercial hemp farming within the borders of the state.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively nullifying federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, 2105, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group. As more people engage in hemp production and the market grows within these states, more people will become emboldened creating an exponential wave, ultimately nullifying the federal ban in effect.

HUGE MARKET FOR HEMP

According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. is the only developed nation that hasn’t developed an industrial hemp crop for economic purposes.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is around $600 million per year. They count as many as 25,000 uses for industrial hemp, including food, cosmetics, plastics and bio-fuel. The U.S. is currently the world’s #1 importer of hemp fiber for various products, with China and Canada acting as the top two exporters in the world.

During World War II, the United States military relied heavily on hemp products, which resulted in the famous campaign and government-produced film, “Hemp for Victory!

WHAT’S NEXT

SB119 will now move to the full Senate for further consideration.

Mike Maharrey