Wisconsin Assembly Bill Would Legalize Hemp Farming and Production

MADISON, Wis. (May 19, 2015) – A bill introduced in the Wisconsin state Assembly last week would allow the farming, production, and sale of industrial hemp in the state, effectively thwarting the federal prohibition on the same.

Assembly Bill 215 (AB215) was introduced on May 14 by State Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) along with 23 co-sponsors. and would open up the industrial hemp market in Wisconsin if successfully passed. It reads, in part:

"A person licensed by the department of agriculture, trade and consumer protection… and an agent or employee of the person acting in the usual course of the agent’s or employee’s business or employment, may plant, cultivate, grow, harvest, process, possess, and deliver industrial hemp in this state to the extent authorized by the person’s license."

The bill would allow the “growing, processing, and, in conjunction with growing or processing, selling industrial hemp for commercial purposes or research” by licensed individuals. Individuals would be eligible for a license after passing a criminal background check and paying a fee of no more than $150.

Notably, the bill does address some concerns of people who oppose the idea of a license for hemp farming on philosophical grounds by making the license “shall issue,” which is a legal term requiring the state to issue the license to people. Without this section, a state department could deny applications for a myriad of reasons.

Passage into law will ensure that Wisconsin will join other states – including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont – that have already passed similar measures.

Farmers in SE Colorado started harvesting the plant in 2013, and farmers in Vermont began harvesting in 2014, effectively blocking federal restrictions on such agricultural activities. On Feb. 2, the Oregon hemp industry officially opened for business and one week later, the first license went to a small non-profit group who hopes to plant 25 acres this spring.

Experts suggest that the U.S. market for hemp is at least $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!”.

But, since the enactment of the deplorable federal controlled-substances act in 1970, the Drug Enforcement Agency has prevented the production of hemp within the United States. Many hemp supporters feel that the DEA has been used as an “attack dog” of sorts to prevent competition with major industries where American-grown hemp products would create serious market competition: Cotton, Paper/Lumber, Oil, and others.

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 new “hemp amendment”

"…allows State Agriculture Departments, colleges and universities to grow hemp, defined as the non-drug oilseed 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."

After its introduction, AB215 was sent to the Assembly Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations. It must pass through that committee successfully before it can receive a vote in the full state Assembly.