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Legislatively Speaking

CBD, cannabis, marijuana, and hemp represent words that are new and unfamiliar, yet old at the same time. This week gives us an opportunity to better understand the vocabulary and industry that dates back to 8,000 BC. Hemp is believed to be one of the earliest plants cultivated for cloth, in addition to pharmaceutical and recreational uses. Its purposes included paper, food, lotions, oil for candles and paint, clothing, rope, and so much more.

Hemp can be traced to ancient Mesopotamia (currently Iran and Iraq), is referenced in the Sung dynasty (500 AD), and is believed to have made it into Europe around 1,200 BC. And as they say, the rest is history.

Wisconsin played a huge role in the domestic past of the cultivation and supply of Hemp. Grown by more than 400 farmers, the state’s crops were even produced at the Mendota and Waupun grounds at one time.

In 1937, hemp was seen as a threat to businesses, like the Dupont paint company, the lumber industry and others. Through the efforts of powerful lobbyists, hemp began to experience its demise and was eventually banned that same year. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of marijuana illegal and that included hemp. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970, which was federal legislation, declared all cannabis varieties, including hemp, as Schedule I controlled substances with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) serving as the regulatory authority (Title 21 US Code Controlled Substance Act). While not making industrialized hemp production illegal, this legislation required growers or researchers to obtain a permit from the DEA.

Wisconsin has decided to take a swing at industrialized hemp again. In 2017, the state passed legislation to allow the growing and processing of industrial hemp. Along the way, we have realized the opportunities, challenges and unintended consequences of the state’s pilot program. In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity while removing it from the list of controlled substances. The bill’s passage required us to revisit our state’s current hemp laws.

Of immediate concern to me was correcting the language in current law that has the ability to criminalize Wisconsin farmers that participate in certain aspects of the Hemp industry. We also need to create licensing processes for distribution, retail, and transportation, develop a testing facility, and put a mechanism in place to stop others from what has been termed ‘climbing the wall’ or bringing hemp products into Wisconsin from other states. Banking associated with hemp also poses another problem, in that many businesses are being barred from using credit cards or traditional banks in their business.

This is Hemp History week. It has been a national observance for the past 10 years. As we do more to raise awareness about the economic, health, and workforce development benefits of hemp, we know that we continue to be on a learning curve in this industry.

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