Wisconsin considers turning hemp oversight to the feds

Pinched for cash and facing sharp declines in hemp growing and processing, Wisconsin may become the first state to relinquish hemp oversight to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wisconsin will retain its state-run program through 2021 but may punt some hemp oversight to the federal government in future years because its program is losing money, according a budget memo released last month.

A spokesperson for state agriculture department told Hemp Industry Daily in an email that Wisconsin “is committed to fully operating the program for the current 2021 growing season.”

No date for a final decision has been set. But the department added that staff positions to oversee the hemp program aren’t funded in the current fiscal year, which began in July.

Wisconsin fiscal analysts report that the state has 549 registered hemp growers, down from about 1,250 growers last year, a 56% drop.

Meanwhile, hemp-processing licenses are down 45% this year in Wisconsin, dropping from 619 to 340.

Wisconsin has been running a hemp program since the 2018 growing season, when states were still running pilot programs for hemp.

It would be the fourth state to cede hemp oversight to the USDA, joining Hawaii, Mississippi and New Hampshire, though the other states never set up state oversight of hemp.

Farmers growing hemp under federal oversight pay no fees but must contract with private third parties for sampling and testing. The USDA does not regulate hemp processors.

The change is getting a mixed response from Wisconsin’s hemp farmers.

FL Morris, treasurer of the South Central Wisconsin Hemp Cooperative, told Wisconsin Public Radio that growers are relieved to see fees going away but worry about customer service under federal control.

“Will they be able to get on to farms when we need them to and take those samples, get us those test results back in a timely fashion? Or is it going to be a little bit of a nightmare like it was in the first couple of years of the state program?”