Hemp Gives New Options to Agriculture in Wisconsin

March 13, 2018

Recently, the state of Wisconsin authorized a pilot program for growing industrial hemp. The state previously outlawed hemp, being a form of cannabis, as a type of marijuana despite its commercial uses.  The new program provides an opportunity for applicants to grow hemp in Wisconsin for the first time in 70 years. The program also allows applicants to experiment with various growing, harvesting, and processing techniques—as long as they comply with the regulations just announced by the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (“DATCP”). The main purpose of the pilot program is to facilitate research into industrial hemp. This includes growing conditions, processing techniques, seed varieties, and storage.

In order to participate in this new program, individuals interested in growing industrial hemp need to apply to DATCP for a one-time license. The application includes a fee ranging from $150 to $1,000 depending on the size of the field; a background check; and the location (including GPS coordinates) of the field or greenhouse where the applicant will grow the hemp. Once applicants have received a license to grow industrial hemp, they must renew the license every year. The cost of the registration fee is $350. Additionally, you must include the research plan, map and GPS coordinates of the field, and a research agreement.

The research plan is a key component of the pilot program and allows farmers to study the effects of different conditions on industrial hemp. It is up to the applicant to determine how best to implement the research plan. However, the plan allows farmers to study various techniques for planting, cultivating, and processing hemp. The research parameters are broad enough to allow a wide variety of programs, including such things as CBD (also called cannabidiol) production, as long as they are aimed at studying how this product can be grown, tested and marketed.

Regulation of the Hemp Industry

The industrial hemp pilot program represents significant deregulation of hemp. However, Wisconsin still heavily regulates the industry. Applicants must submit to background checks and supply research programs for the cultivation of industrial hemp. Further, applicants must allow DATCP officials access to the property to record the property transfers. To ensure that licensed farms are not mistaken for illegal operations, applicants must also submit GPS coordinates for their operations.

One of the significant restrictions of the pilot program is that the industrial hemp must not exceed 0.3 percent THC. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the principal psychoactive component of cannabis. If the crop does exceed this amount, the state will require the farm to destroy or plow the crop under.  With no current recognized source of seed in Wisconsin, producers will need to seek certified seed from a reputable source.

The rules require licenses for both growers of industrial hemp and processors of industrial hemp. DATCP issued forms for the required licenses. The grower license allows a person to possess, cultivate, grow, and harvest industrial hemp. The processor license allows a person to store, handle, and convert industrial hemp into a marketable form. The result of these regulations is to allow competition between various growers and production.

As part of their license requirements, a grower or producer of industrial hemp must submit various records and reports to DATCP. These reports include a planting report no later than July 1 or 30 days of planting, whichever is earlier, a final production report by December 15, and any additional reports required by DATCP. In addition, the emergency rules set forth strict requirements for hemp seeds, testing, and sampling to ensure that the industrial hemp does not exceed 0.3 percent THC.

So What Does This All Mean?

The bottom line is that the new emergency regulations provide a great opportunity to research industrial hemp production in Wisconsin and participate in a new industry. The DATCP regulations set strict requirements to comply with state and federal laws. If you are interested in this new and growing part of Wisconsin’s agricultural heritage, be sure to contact an experienced attorney to ensure that you comply with the law.  Feel free to contact Guy DuBeau with any questions you have on this program.