Wisconsin farmers will be able to grow industrial hemp under legislation passed with unanimous support and signed into Gov. Scott Walker last week.
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.
DATCP has 90 days from when the bill is signed to establish the rules for the program.
"Ideally, by March or April, we're going to have our first industrial hemp seeds in the ground for our first crops since the late '50s," said Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, who authored the bill with Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum.
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. It can also be used to produce CBD oil.
"This is another opportunity for farmers to diversify their portfolios," Testin said. "If we can give them another tool in the toolbox to help them increase their margins, help with crop rotation, I think that's just going to be to their benefit."
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.