It’s the 7th annual Hemp History Week June 6-12, 2016, but there is little to celebrate hemp-wise in Wisconsin. In the year since the last Hemp History Week, Assembly Bill 215, which would have legalized industrial hemp cultivation under the federal farm bill, never received a public hearing in the Republican-controlled state legislature and died in committee without a vote.
The Democratic sponsored AB215‘s fate came despite having a GOP cosponsor, Rep. Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake), an unusual occurrence in recent sessions. Like all Democratic-sponsored cannabis-related legislation, the bill received no public hearings. AB215 sponsor Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo), twice wrote letters to the chair of the Assembly’s Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations, Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) requesting a public hearing on the bill. Swearingen offered no response.
Had AB215 and its Senate companion bill SB649 passed and been signed into law, hemp cultivation would have been legal in Wisconsin. This became the subject of a federal court case. In Oct. 2015. hemp plants being grown by the Menominee Tribe on native lands were seized and destroyed by DEA agents. The seizure came despite the tribe’s efforts to work with federal authorities to grow under the guidelines in the federal Cole Memo. The Menominee subsequently filed suit against the DEA and DOJ in federal court in Green Bay over the destruction of their crop.
However, the judge in the case recently ruled that because hemp cultivation remained illegal in Wisconsin, the Menominee could not grow it, despite being the only non-Public Law 280 tribe in Wisconsin, and thus not subject to state law like the other tribes.
Perhaps when the 8th annual Hemp History Week rolls around next year, Wisconsin may have some more receptive lawmakers when hemp legislation is reintroduced for the 2017-2018 session. It’s a sad testimony to the partisan state of affairs when a crop with so much heritage and history in the state which would provide state farmers with a highly desirable new product to grow and market would face such rejection. Hemp should not be controversial but things continue to remain upside down in the Badger State as policy decisions are dictated by cannabigotry, not common sense.