A bill introduced by a Stevens Point lawmaker would allow Wisconsin farmers to grow industrial hemp with a state license.
Currently, farmers in the state are prohibited under state and federal law from producing hemp, which is cultivated from Cannabis sativa, the same plant used to grow marijuana.
The strains of the plant used in hemp production differ from those grown for marijuana because they contain less than .03 percent THC, which produces mind-altering effects. Marijuana can contain anywhere from 6 percent to 7 percent THC.
Industrial hemp is produced from the stalk of the plant, and is used to produce a variety of fibers, including rope.
Introduced by State Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., a Democrat, the measure would require the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to permit farmers to grow and process Cannabis sativa, as long as it contains no more than .03 percent THC. Farmers would be required to provide a legal description of the land where the hemp would be grown or processed and to report all sales. Any person convicted of violating controlled substance laws would not be eligible.
Molepske said there hasn’t been a great deal of demand from area farmers to grow the crop, but that is largely because of a federal ban that prohibits farmers from growing the plant. The DEA can license farmers to grow industrial hemp, but rarely does. North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont and Oregon already have legalized the cultivation of hemp, but have not let farmers grow the plant because of DEA resistance.
The legislation would not lift the federal ban, but would allow the DATCP, not the DEA, to oversee the growth of such crops. Molepske said being prepared for a change in the law makes sense, especially since U.S. Representatives Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., recently introduced legislation that would require the government to do so.
Molepske added that hemp would make a good rotational crop for potato farmers because the plant can grow in dry, sandy soil. According to Bill Tracy, Agronomy Department Chair at the University of Wisconsin, industrial hemp was a big crop in Wisconsin before 1957, when the federal ban went into effect. The Agronomy Department actually had a hemp selection program, but it was scrapped decades ago, he said.
Dick Okray, owner of Okray Family Farms, a major potato producer in the area, said he would consider planting industrial hemp as a rotational crop if the federal ban were lifted.
“If you throw me one more thing I can plant as a rotational crop or a cover crop, I’ll do it. There have been some really terrible rotational crops, but I don’t think hemp is one of those,” he said.
By Cara Spoto