Wisconsin will be the first state to hand over authority over its state hemp program to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The announced transition will take place on January 1, 2022. As of that date, Wisconsin farmers and hemp processors must adhere to the definitive hemp rule published by the USDA earlier this year.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has overseen some very rocky years for hemp in the state. When the Farm Bill went into effect in 2014, industrial hemp became a legal crop in Wisconsin as part of a research pilot program. Hemp growers and processors in Wisconsin were required to submit a research plan in order to be approved as a research provider of hemp. When the 2018 Farm Bill fully legalized hemp, confusion was sowed by numerous delays in the USDA’s efforts to publish a final rule and establish a legal hemp structure across the country.
In October 2020, farmers and processors in Wisconsin struggled to keep up with federal regulations. The USDA failed to approve Wisconsin’s hemp plan, and lawmakers extended the deadline for Wisconsin farmers just in time. DATCP switched to another hemp program while waiting for the USDA’s final hemp regulation, which took more than two years to complete.
Hard harvest to grow
What followed was an unexpected and significant drop in interest in growing hemp in Wisconsin. Applications for approval as a hemp grower or processor, which until then were more than 2,200 per year, fell to 1,339 in 2021, a decrease of 42%. Of these 1,339 people, more than a thousand were returnees. Not only did the Wisconsin hemp industry fail to attract new faces, it also drove out nearly half the crowd that was ready to try in just three years.
Hemp – and thus cannabis itself, since hemp is just a cannabis variety with low psychoactive effects – is a difficult crop because it requires a lot of maintenance, infrastructure and water. Unlike other crops, hemp must be tested regularly to ensure that it does not contain more than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis); If so, the cannabis plants are considered illegal marijuana and must be destroyed. In addition, a vast majority of the hectares of hemp grown is devoted to the extraction of cannabidiol (CBD) products, which were hugely popular a few years ago, but production turned out to be far higher than demand, which resulted in the price of CBD fell with the profitability of hemp.
As a result, the hemp acreage in Wisconsin was divided by three, from 14,200 acres to 5,300 acres in the 2021 growing season. Now, at the height of instability, DATCP is handing control of this industry to federal agencies.
“By continuously liaising with industry stakeholders and the USDA, DATCP plans to move the program from a state program to a state program. We believe this transition will give cannabis growers the greatest opportunity to produce hemp in Wisconsin, ”said Randy Romanski, DATCP secretary designer.
What to expect from this change
Wisconsin is the first state, along with North Carolina, to give up control of its own cannabis program. Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Mississippi also operate directly under the supervision of the USDA, but unlike Wisconsin, they never had a state plan.
The reason for Wisconsin’s decision to give up state control of hemp appears to be purely financial. A June Legislative Fiscal Bureau report found the hemp program should end the year on a negative balance of $ 450,000. This is in large part due to constantly rising costs due to the constantly changing legal framework by the federal authorities paired with decreasing income due to decreasing applications and the associated fees that should finance the hemp program. The state parliament refused to provide additional funds. DATCP suggested doubling application fees to increase income, but eventually decided against it and instead chose to hand over the program to federal agencies.
The question of state and federal control had surfaced last year when no one knew whether federal lawmakers would allow our state to maintain its hemp program. At the time, DATCP claimed to want to stick to the state program because it would be more beneficial for our farmers.
Change the rules
The main argument put forward is that farmers in Wisconsin could use DATCP rules to grow hemp that has tested up to 0.399% THC, with DATCP rounded down. Wisconsin farmers under federal rule would not benefit from this leniency.
One reason DATCP may have changed its position on the adequacy of federal regulations for hemp is because the USDA made several changes to its regulations in 2021 that gave farmers more leeway. The USDA increased THC levels, considered a negligent violation that requires the plant to be eradicated, from 0.5% THC to 1% THC, allowing for remediation for plants that are above the legal threshold but below 1% lie. The USDA also doubled the time farmers were given to get their crops tested.
Moving to USDA control would put an end to the license fees required by the DATCP, as the USDA does not charge hemp growers an annual registration fee. However, with DATCP currently responsible for testing plants for THC, the transition could also result in much greater delays in the USDA’s mandatory testing being carried out. Wisconsin growers have also expressed concern that federal, rather than state, administration could create difficult customer service relationships and hamper Wisconsin’s already-weakened hemp industry.