A bill that would legalize industrial hemp farming in Wisconsin was unanimously approved by the state Senate on Tuesday. The measure, which had bipartisan support, creates a state registration process for the cultivation of industrial hemp as a commodity. The Assembly will now take up the bill before sending it to Gov. Scott Walker for approval.
Under the legislation, the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection could issue licenses to authorize the growing and processing of industrial hemp with a concentration of no more than 0.3 percent THC. The bill does not allow anyone with a previous drug conviction to obtain a license, presumably to prevent them from using a hemp license as a front to grow marijuana. As usual, the crop would not be allowed to contain more than 0.3 percent THC.
The bill also allows DATCP or a college or university to create agricultural pilot programs to grow and study industrial hemp.
Supporters of the bill hope hemp cultivation will provide economic benefits for farmers while creating new manufacturing and tech opportunities for the state. Industrial hemp can be used to make items including paper, textiles, and health food, and can even be used in vehicle production.
The bill is "the first step for the rebirth of an opportunity for Wisconsin farmers," said Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, who introduced the bill with Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum.
Wisconsin was once one of the nation's top hemp producers until it was pronounced illegal at the federal level in 1937. "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," said Kara O'Connor, government relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
Since the passage of the 2014 farm bill, 31 states have legalized industrial hemp, including neighboring states like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota.