U.S. imports industrial hemp, but does not allow farmers to grow it
The United States imports it, but it's illegal for American farmers to grow it.
Wisconsin farmers could soon have the option to grow industrial hemp under a proposal that has cleared the Assembly Committee on Agriculture.
State Rep. Phil Garthwaite's Assembly Bill 206 was originally written to create a legislative study committee to examine the issues surrounding hemp cultivation. However, an amendment proposed by several Assembly members instead allows the state Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection to license industrial hemp growers.
"Obviously, it's not the solution to improving the farm economy," Garthwaite, D-Dickeyville, said, "but you have to think outside the box. It would be another option for producers."
He said there are numerous products containing hemp on store shelves all over the country -- including clothing, paper, food, cosmetics, lotions, food, building materials and even auto parts.
"It's clear there's a real market for hemp," Garthwaite said. "Tons of hemp (products) are imported every year when it could easily be grown here; that just doesn't make any sense to me."
Currently nine states, including North Dakota, have removed legal barriers to the cultivation of hemp. Sixteen states have passed resolutions easing restrictions on research or cultivation, with 26 states in total having introduced legislation aimed at relaxing barriers to hemp production.
Hemp production detractors cite the visual similarities with marijuana, a relative. However, industrial hemp contains less than 1 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana.
"We're talking industrial hemp," said state Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, a bill supporter and a former police officer. "You could smoke it all day long and all you would get is a headache. To me, the bill is simple. What it is is a classic case of a good solid crop for the Upper Midwest, but we're caught up on the war on drugs. What's ironic is it's legal to import it.
"It's been a rough few years for our farmers and it's not a panacea, but why not give them every tool in the toolbox? It's an additional way to make income. It's a crop with relative low inputs."
Any legislation requires federal approval. All hemp is classified as a "drug" under the Controlled Substance Act and production is under the control of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
BY CRAIG D. REBER
February 2, 2010