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Bills seek to legalize hemp production

Wisconsin Republicans are trying to make the case that bringing back large-scale hemp production would be a winner for Wisconsin agriculture and rural parts of the state.

Bills backed by Republicans have appeared in the Wisconsin Legislature and Congress.

The state legislation, from GOP Sen. Patrick Testin and Rep. Jesse Kremer, also received bipartisan support. The bill's authors highlighted the economic advantages it could bring to rural areas of the state.

"At a time where we are spending new high-tech industry in our urban areas — Foxconn, for example — it's high time we reintroduce a commodity that has the potential to grow our ag industry, create new high-tech careers and allow Wisconsin to be a manufacturer of hemp products in the Midwest and nationwide," said Kremer, R-Kewaskum.

Wisconsin in the last century was a leading producer of hemp, but saw demand drop following World War II. In 2014, the federal government signed off on a bill to give states the ability to run hemp research programs.

Meanwhile, national lawmakers are now working on a bill backed by U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, that would exclude industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana.

Grothman says the decades of banning its production has hurt American farmers. The bill would legalize the production of industrial hemp, which is used in products ranging from construction materials to plastic composites. It would do so by excluding industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act's definition of marijuana.

Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, says the level of THC in industrial hemp is less than 1 percent.

"Non-narcotic industrial hemp makes our economy stronger by providing an additional revenue stream for farmers, and is useful in other areas like construction and manufacturing," he said.

Kremer, joined by representatives from the ag industry, applauded those efforts, while also touting hemp's uses, including in the textile industry and as insulation for homes, brake pads and other health benefits.

They also addressed a key misconception about hemp: that it, like marijuana, will also produce a high. While they are both forms of cannabis, the low percentage of THC in hemp means it won't happen, they said.

Calling it an issue of "mistaken identity association with its recreational cousin," Wisconsin Farmers Union Government Relations Director Kara O'Connor said the myth led to farmers losing out.

"Farmers lost one option for financial viability, one additional option in a crop rotation, an additional option for developing processing and value-added enterprises in rural communities," she said.

The bill seeks to make sure that growers don't have a drug history.

Under the state bill, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would be required to issue licenses that authorize the growing and processing of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is defined as the plant Cannabis sativa with no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis. The bill requires an applicant for a license to provide the GPS coordinates of the land on which industrial hemp will be grown or processed and to pay a fee for the license. It also requires DATCP to obtain a criminal history search from the state Department of Justice for each applicant and prohibits DATCP from issuing a license to a person if the criminal history search shows the person has been convicted of violating the controlled substances law.

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