After Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation in November creating a state pilot program allowing farmers to grow hemp, hundreds of struggling Wisconsin farmers applied for state licenses.
They had lobbied for legalization because, with milk and soybean prices dropping precipitously, they need another cash crop. Hemp can be used in a wide variety of products.
It’s been argued in recent years that hemp is a major factor in Wisconsin’s economic history. The state once stood at No. 2 in the nation for production of the plant.
But Attorney General Brad Schimel threw a temporary wrench into farmers’ hopes last month by issuing a policy memo limiting use of the crop. Finding himself suddenly facing great pressure from the business sector, as well as fellow Republican officials, he recently rescinded the memo without explanation.
Farmers probably didn’t care about the reason. They were just relieved.
The most profitable product derived from hemp is CBD oil, which is used to treat seizures, pain and other medical conditions. Farmers assumed their licenses would allow them to produce and market the oil.
But the memo Schimel issued last month warned that Wisconsin farmers who grow hemp could not legally extract and sell CBD oil derived from their plants.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Rob Richard.
Schimel, who’s aligned politically with the evangelical faction of the Republican right, said he’d heard that children were using CBD oil to get high. Chemically, however, the oil does not contain a sufficient quantity of THC, the compound that produces the euphoric high enjoyed by marijuana users.
Schimel’s memo generated immediate backlash. Richard said the memo left farmers stunned, and he criticized the timing.
“The amount of money, planning and timing put into this, and they shut it off (just) before the application deadline,” Richard said. “CBD oil is where the profitability is right now.”
Agricultural and business leaders pushed back strongly against Schimel’s policy memo.
On May 9, officials of the state Department of Justice, which Schimel leads, met with the Republican authors of the bill that created the hemp licenses. After that meeting, Schimel issued a statement reversing the orders of his original memo.
Schimel’s communication director has not responded to reporters’ requests for comment.