Now that hemp is making a big comeback in Wisconsin, we believe we have an opportunity to nurture and guide the industry and make this state a national leader in hemp production once again.
Wisconsin Act 100 – the industrial hemp law – didn’t just happen. It took a lot of work by State Representative Jesse Kremer and State Senator Patrick Testin, along with others with an interest in this opportunity, to move this package through the Legislature and onto Governor Walker’s desk. Because of their efforts, Wisconsin became the first state to unanimously approve an industrial hemp law.
Equally impressive is the excitement that has been generated about hemp in this state. More than 350 applications have been submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to either grow or process hemp. No state in the country has come close to doing what Wisconsin is now accomplishing in its first year under a hemp pilot program.
But, if you have been following the news lately, this doesn’t go without its challenges. On April 27 the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an ‘analytical note’ that generally declared CBD oil to be illegal in the state. State lawmakers, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, and the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance reached out to the DOJ asking that they be given an opportunity to explain why the law required a change in that position. A great deal of credit should be given to Attorney General Brad Schimel and his team at the DOJ. They not only engaged us with open minds, but also modified their stance on this issue based on the information that we presented to them. Following our discussion, the DOJ recommended that law enforcement agencies across the state not take any enforcement action against those who produce and sell CBD oil under the provisions of a state hemp pilot program.
This is just one example of why we can’t just create a new law and hope for the best. Too many other states have made this mistake. They created a hemp pilot program only to see it struggle to succeed, because there was not sufficient attention paid to nurturing and supporting the new program. None of us want to see that happen in Wisconsin. It is becoming abundantly clear that people who are interested in the successful re-launch of the hemp industry in this state need to work together to make sure that this new opportunity stays on track.
There is a long list of opportunities that will take work, advocacy, and focus from all of us if they are to be realized, including the following:
Expansion of administrative rules. As you can see in the attached comments that were submitted by the Farm Bureau and the Hemp Alliance to DATCP, there is still much that must be done to allow this industry to reach its full potential. DATCP’s administrative rules have and will continue to create the very foundation upon which this industry will be built. The changes outlined in our comments must be addressed in the short term. We firmly believe that this will be the linchpin in the success of our jump start of this industry.
Statutory cleanup. Based on input from many parties, including the DOJ, we have identified a long list of state statutory changes that are needed to maximize this opportunity. For instance, as we have learned more about the science behind CBD oil production it has become clear that a fix is needed for the state’s CBD-only law, referred to as “Lydia’s Law.” We have also identified a number of other needed statutory changes that would smooth the launch of this program and expand the intended legal protections to everyone involved.
Outside influences. Both the Farm Bureau and the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance have committed to working toward creating an open market for the many, safe hemp-derived products, such as CBD oils and other cannabinoids. There are a number of special interests at work trying to push certain hemp-related products into a strictly-regulated box. These interests see the incredible potential of these products and hope to use regulatory red tape to make it difficult and cost-prohibitive for small farmers and producers to compete for a share of this market.
There will also be a great deal of pressure from people who want to use the initial success of the state’s new industrial hemp program to support efforts to legalize medical or recreational use of marijuana. The Hemp Alliance does not take a position on this important social question, and recognizes that the hemp industry and marijuana industries may share a number of common interests; however, the Hemp Alliance is committed to ensuring that its focus remains fixed on growing and supporting the industrial hemp industry.
Federal advocacy. The future of this industry will largely be decided at the federal level of government. There are a number of exciting things happening in Congress right now, and we will be monitoring these and advocating for positive change.
Up to this point, the lion’s share of the burden of ensuring the success of the new hemp program has fallen on the shoulders of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. In particular, this charge has been led by Rob Richard, their Senior Director of Governmental Relations, who many of you have corresponded with directly. Along with the staff working on this topic at DATCP, Rob has become our state’s hemp point person with his tireless efforts on behalf of this program. However, as a statewide agricultural organization that covers all ag-related topics, the Farm Bureau will not be able to sustain the level of attention that it has paid to this issue over the long-term. They need help.
That is why a number of people interested in the future of this industry have supported the creation of the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance. This organization has already had significant success to date, despite operating entirely on the pro-bono work of our general counsel, Larry Konopacki. Larry worked for more than a decade as an attorney for the State Legislature, where he worked closely on the legislation that created the industrial hemp program in our state.
The Wisconsin Hemp Alliance is going to have to evolve to be able to continue its work to advocate on your behalf. We do not know what it will grow to look like yet, but we certainly welcome your input. There is no reason to think we won’t grow into something similar to other agricultural organizations like the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Cranberry Growers, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, or the many other organizations that exist to protect the interests of their members and the industry they represent.
The short-term goals of the Hemp Alliance include the following:
Continue to work toward the goals outlined above to move this industry in a positive direction.
Complete the organization and registration of the Alliance, including obtaining tax-exempt status under federal law.
Develop a website that can serve as an informational source and a portal for people to join the organization and to communicate and connect with each other.
After developing an initial membership, establish the governance of the organization and turn the management and direction of the organization over to their care.
We are reaching out to you today to gauge your interest in joining forces in this effort. If you would like to participate in or join the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance, please reply to this email or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Doing so will not commit you to anything; we are simply trying to gauge interest at this point. Please note that we legally obtained your email from DATCP; If you do not respond to this message, it will be the last time that you hear from us. The next message we send will only be to those who respond with interest in participating in the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance. Please feel free to pass this message on to others who you think may be interested in joining this cause.