Wednesday, March 03, 2010

At a time when Wisconsin farm families are constantly looking for new sources of revenue, hemp would be a good one.

The states of North Dakota, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont and Oregon already have legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp, recognizing that these crops can be used to produce fibers that are useful in the making of rope and other products.

At a time when Wisconsin farm families are constantly looking for new sources of revenue, this is a good one. And it has a history in the state; until 1957, notes Bill Tracy, who chairs the Agronomy Department at the University of Wisconsin, industrial hemp was a significant crop for Wisconsin farmers.

With that combination of current need and relatively recent history in mind, legislators should not hesitate to back a bill, introduced by state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, which would address the state prohibition on the production of hemp.

The controversy regarding this bill, to the extent that there is any, will have to do with the fact that hemp is cultivated from the same plant that is used to grow marijuana.

Molepske’s bill would require the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to permit farmers to grow and process the Cannabis sativa plant, so long as it contains only a minimal amount of the active ingredient in marijuana. In other words: He is not proposing to make Wisconsin the nation’s prime pot producer.

Under the Stevens Point Democrat’s proposal, farmers would be required to provide a legal description of the land where the hemp would be grown or processed and to report all sales. There would, as well, be restrictions on access to permits for those convicted of drug crimes.

This is sound legislation.

Of course, Molepske’s bill is really only a step in the process of lifting the ban on hemp production. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency still restricts production. But, noting recent legislation introduced by Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Barney Frank, D-Mass., which would ease federal restrictions, Molepske correctly suggests that Wisconsin should be prepared to capitalize on any change in federal regulations.


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