Wisconsin farmers could grow industrial hemp under new legislation introduced by Republican lawmakers and given a public hearing on Tuesday.
The proposal could be "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. The bill has bipartisan support in both chambers of the Legislature.
Wisconsin was once one of the nation's top hemp producers, but farmers have been banned from growing it for decades. It was legal at the federal level until 1937. Both hemp and marijuana are forms of cannabis, but only marijuana has THC and psychoactive elements.
Industrial hemp can be used to make items including paper, textiles and health food, and can even be used in vehicle production.
"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.
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 would not allow anyone with a previous drug conviction to obtain a license.
The bill would also allow DATCP or a college or university to create an agricultural pilot program to grow and study industrial hemp.
Federal law generally prohibits the growing and possession of cannabis plants. Under the 2014 federal farm bill, states were allowed to authorize pilot programs to grow and research industrial hemp.
U.S. Reps. Glenn Grothman, Ron Kind, Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore and Mike Gallagher are co-sponsors of a bipartisan federal bill that would remove industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.
Since the passage of the 2014 farm bill, 31 states have allowed industrial hemp to be grown, including Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana.