Source: The Lakeland Times

The legalization of marijuana for recreational use is a headline generator, much more so than efforts to legalize its less glamorous cousin, industrial hemp, but multiple states are pressing forward to develop what could be a $500-million-a-year commercial hemp industry, and one lawmaker wants Wisconsin to get its share.

So far, the Badger state is lagging other states who have green-lighted the production and marketing of industrial hemp; that could change, though, if Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) has his way.

Over the past several months, Kremer says he has been meeting with officials and representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; the Wisconsin Department of Justice; the Wisconsin Farm Bureau; and the Legislative Council in a bid to utilize hemp to help reboot what he calls a floundering agricultural sector.

Nationwide, Kremer says, the United States annually imports $500 million of the commodity to manufacture products ranging from hemp fiber auto panels to the replacement of Kevlar in bulletproof vests. He wants Wisconsin to capitalize on a growing desire to grow the crop here, and he is aiming for a public informational hearing on the issue sometime in January.

Industrial hemp is listed as a controlled substance by the federal government because, as a member of the Cannabis family, it contains a slight level of the psychoactive chemical THC, though too little of it to be intoxicating.

However, the 2014 Farm Bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama allows individual state agricultural agencies and educational institutions to establish pilot programs for industrial hemp if the state legalizes industrial hemp production and processing for specific permitted purposes, such as research.

New legislative effort

A bill authored by Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) to do just that failed in the 2015-16 session, but this time Kremer believes there is new momentum. For one thing, he points to a recent endorsement by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.

In recent weeks, Kremer says, the federation adopted a policy supporting the production, processing, commercialization, and utilization of industrial hemp and calling for its regulation by USDA rather than the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Rob Richard, the senior director of governmental relations for the federation, told The Lakeland Times the bureau did adopt a position of support for industrial hemp as allowed by federal law, if the state permits it.

Richard said Kremer had called him about the issue, and several counties had in past years brought up the idea of industrial hemp, though it had previously never gained any traction. Richard also said former Rep. Eugene Hahn had actively promoted industrial hemp back in the late 90s and early 2000s.

“When our policy development committee met this fall for the annual meeting we had just a couple of weeks ago, the discussion got a little more involved,” Richard said last week. “There was a county resolution. A couple of counties asked if we could look at the idea. So the policy development committee approved it, and they put it before the full body at our annual meeting and it passed. There wasn’t much fanfare or anything to it.”

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