Wisconsin residents who want to grow or process hemp in the coming year must apply for a state license. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), which handles the licenses, opened the application process on Friday, Nov. 1.
DATCP gives out lifetime hemp licenses which do not need to be renewed, so people who received either a grower or processor license in past years will not need a new one, but they will need to register if they plan to grow or process hemp again in 2020. Anyone who does not already have a license will need to apply for one. The process can be completed online at datcp.wi.gov. It requires a background check and fees up to $1,150 for grower licenses (processor licenses are free) and up to $350 per year for the registration fee. “This process usually takes about a month,” says Frances Hegarty, DATCP’s hemp program manager.
Once the license and registration have been obtained, hemp growers are still beholden to DATCP; they are required to submit at least two reports—one when planting and one after harvesting—as well as open their crops to testing prior to harvest. DATCP must test each field and variety of hemp being grown (for a $250 fee per sample) in order to ensure the hemp has less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. If the crops have THC levels higher than the legal maximum, growers have 10 days to destroy the entire field.
“There is an inherent risk associated with participation in this program. There is no guarantee that your crop will pass the regulatory THC test,” DATCP reminds potential licensees.
Hemp Is Now Federally Legal
At the same time as registrations opened for hemp licenses in Wisconsin, federal law relating to hemp changed. The path to the legalization of hemp was a rocky one, but it is now federally legal. As hemp is a non-psychoactive strain of the cannabis sativa plant, it was often—wrongfully—grouped together with marijuana. It was the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law by Donald Trump in December 2018, that legalized hemp on the federal level, making it a commodity crop.
The 2018 Farm Bill didn’t immediately go into effect, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) needed time to draft the exact new regulations. Nearly a year after the bill passed, and after being significantly delayed, the new regulations have finally been released.
Starting on Thursday, Oct. 31, of this year and until the same day in 2021, interim regulations will rule the budding market surrounding hemp. People are allowed and encouraged to comment on the interim rule; “after reviewing and evaluating the comments, USDA will draft and publish a final rule,” as the USDA explains.
While federal legalization changes everything in states with no pre-existing hemp programs, Wisconsin will not see much change as it already had a structure in place to grow hemp under previous rules. Since March 2018, Wisconsin has been operating under a state pilot research program, although hemp was federally illegal. In 2014, a federal bill allowed universities and state departments to grow hemp in order to conduct research; Wisconsin farmers have been operating as extensions of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture ever since. To keep up this appearance, the registration process requires signing a research agreement.
However, this change in federal law promises brighter days to come for Wisconsin hemp professionals. The 2018 Farm Bill removes roadblocks to the hemp industry; for instance, by opening federal funding for hemp crops, removing restrictions on banking, water rights and crop insurance. It also allows hemp to be freely transported across state lines and to or through states with no state-sponsored hemp programs.
In the 2019 growing season, Wisconsin’s DATCP received nearly 2,100 applications, “a dramatic increase” from the previous year, according to Brian Kuhn, director of the department’s Plant Industry Bureau. Out of 1,400 applications to grow hemp in the past season, all but 250 were first-time growers. It is likely that this number will keep increasing in the coming months.
“We attribute much of the increase to removal of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act as part of the 2018 Farm Bill late last year,” Kuhn added. “That removed much of the legal uncertainty that may have held participation back somewhat.”
Nov. 12, 2019