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Momentum gathers in state for industrial hemp
hemp harvest

WISCONSIN - Recently, with strong bipartisan support in Madison, Wisconsin State Senators Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and freshman Republican Patrick Testin, Stevens Point, co-authored SB 119, which would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. AB 183 is the companion bill in the Wisconsin State Assembly.

Last week, the Wisconsin State Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee, held a public hearing and voted to advance the bill to the full senate for debate and a vote. Members of the committee include Senator Moulton, Chair (R-Chippewa Falls), Senator Tiffany, Vice-Chair (R-Hazelhurst), Senator Harsdorf (R-River Falls), Senator Petrowski (R-Marathon), Senator Testin (R-Stevens Point), Senator L. Taylor (D-Milwaukee), Senator Miller (D-Monona), Senator Larson (D-Milwaukee), and Senator Vinehout (D-Alma).

The bill in the state assembly has not yet had a hearing. The bill was introduced by Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum). The bill was read and referred to the committee in March of 2017.

Beau Stafford, Policy Development Director in the office of Senator Kathleen Vinehout, reported that Senator Vinehout is pleased to see progress in moving legalization of cultivation of industrial hemp forward. The senator has worked on the issue for years, and is finally beginning to see her efforts come to fruition.

“Senator Vinehout is cautiously optimistic,” Stafford said, “but is concerned that the bill may simply run out of time as the Assembly is planning an early adjournment.”

Stafford reports that they are gratified to see the level of bipartisan support the initiative has garnered, but are concerned that the Governor may not be tracking along with the details of the opportunity that industrial hemp represents for the state’s farmers.

Advantages of hemp

Industrial hemp is used as raw material in buildings, houses, insulation, roofing, car door panels, fiber for clothing and rope, paper and as a food crop for the nutritious seeds in the form of hemp oil, hemp butter, hemp milk, energy bars, protein mixes and countless other culinary uses.

This dual-use crop has economic benefits for farmers and is projected to be an $80 billion a year industry, greater than corn and soy combined. Canadian farmers are growing it, making $250 an acre and selling it to the U.S.

A 2009 study from the University of Connecticut’s Biofuel Consortium found that hemp seed oil made a “viable and even attractive“ feedstock for producing biodiesel. Hemp biodiesel proved to be high efficiency (97 percent of the hemp oil was converted to biodiesel) and could even be used at lower temperatures than other biodiesels.

The best thing about hemp is that growing it doesn’t require any herbicides, as it grows like a weed it can tolerate close planting and can even choke out thistle.  It grows on degraded soils and farmers are able to reap a profit on marginal land.  Hemp actually improves the soil with its root structure. Its long taproot is important on the farm for soil stabilization and industrial hemp has phytoremediation potential, meaning that the plants can help repair polluted soil.

Since hemp is a dual crop, 2-for-1, each acre planted by Wisconsin farmers could be two harvests -  one for food and one for the industrial uses.

History of hemp

Hemp is one of the oldest plants that has been in continuous use by human civilization. A piece of hemp fabric is one of the oldest artifacts found on the planet, having endured for over 8,000 years.

Around 600 BC, hemp rope appeared in southern Russia, and around 500 BC, the Arabs discovered ways to make hemp paper. Hemp rope shows up in England at about 100 BC, and for the next 700 years, most of the paper is made with hemp.

America could not have waged its revolution without hemp, and for the next 150 years, hemp was the top cash crop in America. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.

Hemp was first planted in Wisconsin in 1908. Over the next four decades, the state’s fertile south-central region proved to be a favorable location for cultivation. For many years, Wisconsin stood behind only Kentucky in terms of hemp acreage.

After 1906, there began to be laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. The Harrison Act of 1914 in the U.S. defined the use of marijuana (among other drugs) as a crime.

In 1941-1942 Henry Ford actually built an experimental car body made from hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel and four times stronger than metal. Hemp is also much lighter than steel, increasing fuel efficiency.

His car ran on hemp ethanol fuel. And in 1942-43, the USDA developed a ‘Hemp for Victory’ film to support the war effort. It encouraged everyone to grow hemp.

Hemp was used for parachutes, rope, webbing, shoes, clothes and much more. Rewards, benefits and exceptions were given to farmers who grew hemp.

In 1951, The Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act in the U.S. increased all drug penalties, and laid down mandatory sentences. In 1957, hemp was banned in the U.S., and in 1958 the last hemp crop was harvested and processed.

In 1998, Canada once again began to allow hemp to be grown. By 2011 The United States was the only developed country that had not established hemp as an agricultural crop. In 2014, President Obama legalized limited hemp farming in the United States.

Historically, the Hearst and DuPont families, with vested interests in the timber and plastics industry, were very powerful opponents of industrial hemp. With powerful newspaper articles, Hearst was able to confuse the populace. The confusion was over the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp.

Marijuana that is attractive to drug users has a THC level of between five to 20 percent. Industrial hemp contains 0.3 percent or less of THC.

The disinformation spin was to confuse people into thinking that marijuana and industrial hemp were the same thing and had the same ability to get people high. Hearst effectively eliminated any threat to his vast forest holdings. DuPont had developed new plastics and wanted to eliminate the competition with hemp, which had many advantages over the plastics.

In 1970, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which had allowed for industrial hemp, was repealed. The 1970 Act applied to all parts of the plant and effectively eliminated industrial hemp as a commercial crop.