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April 3, 2017

COLUMN: Industrial hemp is the crop of our future

by Rep. Dave Considine

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Dave Considine represents the 81st District in the State Assembly. The 81st District includes Baraboo, Sauk City, Prairie du Sac, Portage, and many other communities. His office can be reached at (608) 266-7746 or via email at Rep.Considine@legis.wisconsin.gov.


When I say “industrial hemp”, what comes to your mind? You may never have heard of hemp before. You may think of marijuana, a relative of the hemp plant (though the two are used for very different purposes). You may think of George Washington, our first President who grew hemp on his plantation. Or, if you’re like me, you think of agriculture and industry.


Industrial hemp presents a major opportunity for our state, and it’s time we take full advantage of it. AB 147, a bill I have introduced in the State Assembly, would make it legal to grow, process, and transport industrial hemp in Wisconsin again. Today, I am asking you to contact your legislators and request that they support the legalization of industrial hemp in our state.

Hemp has a long history of agricultural production in North America, including right here in Wisconsin. In 1890, the USDA Office of Fiber Investigations was created by Jeremiah Rusk. Rusk was once a Republican Governor of Wisconsin and served as the 2nd U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and he created the office to explore solutions to the nation’s fiber shortage. Wisconsin’s own hemp industry emerged directly from the creation of this office and its research.

Our state’s hemp industry thrived through World War II, but disappeared in the 1950s, in part due to postwar market forces and public confusion regarding its link to marijuana. Although hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, they look and perform very differently. Visually, it’s easy to tell one plant from the other: hemp is tall and fibrous, while marijuana grows close to the ground. Their production is also very different. Hemp cannot be used for mind-altering or medicinal purposes, and marijuana can’t be used in manufacturing because it produces poor quality fibers. And if you’re concerned about someone trying to “hide” marijuana in a hemp field (as I have heard from a number of people), just talk to any farmer and they’ll tell you: hemp crops and marijuana cannot and should not even be grown near each other.

Financially, industrial hemp represents a significant opportunity for Wisconsin. According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. market for imported hemp products hit $36.9 million in 2013. That was a six-fold increase from 2005. Hemp is used in a wide variety of ways including rope, oil, edible seeds, concrete, clothing, paper, and much more. Wisconsin already imports some of these products, but we could benefit even more from producing our own hemp crops on our own land.

At least 30 other states have enacted legislation that allows them to produce hemp for either research or commercial purposes. It’s time for Wisconsin to catch up. With so many roads - like Highway 33, 188, and more - in dangerous states of disrepair, and our public schools trying to find all the money they can to keep their doors open, our state is in desperate need of an opportunity to cooperate across the aisle and find a new, creative source of income. Industrial hemp is that opportunity, and we need to take advantage of it now before we are the last in the nation. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support industrial hemp in Wisconsin.