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Assembly Ag Panel Votes to Allow Farmers to Grow Hemp
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 01/22/2010

Members of the Assembly Ag Committee who were expending to vote on a bill this week to establish a study group on growing industrial hemp in Wisconsin ended up approving a different policy that would allow farmers to become licensed to start raising it immediately. As Wisconsin Ag Connection reported a week ago, Rep. Phil Garthwaite was proposing an independent committee that would review literature related to hemp, and evaluate the economic opportunities for state growers and distributors. However, an amendment proposed by Rep. Louie Molepske on Thursday, with support from Garthwaite and Committee Chair Amy Sue Vruwink, instead allows the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to license industrial hemp growers.

"During World War II, Wisconsin was a top grower of industrial hemp," said Rep. Garthwaite. "Products containing hemp are on store shelves all over the country. It's clear there is a real market for hemp, and right now it's illegal for Wisconsin farmers to grow it. Tons of hemp is imported every year when it could easily be grown here; that just doesn't make any sense to me."

Industrial hemp is often used as an alternative fuel and motor oil, as well as other uses like seed and industrial hemp oil in snack foods, body care products, and food supplements. But some oppose the move because parts of the plant are considered controlled substances and can be used to produce illegal drugs.

Currently nine states have removed their legal barriers to the cultivation of hemp. Sixteen others have passed resolutions easing restrictions on research or cultivation, with twenty six states in total having introduced legislation aimed at relaxing barriers to hemp production.

Garthwaite says it is not immediately clear if the bill will be considered before the full Assembly, but noted this is the furthest forward movement so far in the effort to allow the cultivation of hemp in Wisconsin.

Also on Thursday, the committee unanimously approved Assembly bills 574 and 575. The first measure would allow light utility vehicles, such as Kubota RTV's, John Deere Gators, Rangers and others, to be operated on roadways for limited-purpose operations for agriculture use. Currently, these vehicles are restricted from being used on roadways and highways for any operation. The second measure requires the state to establish standards for products sold as honey.

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