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Hemp permit
Copy of a permit once required by farmers to grow hemp in Wisconsin.

A recent Cap Times cover story on the state's extensive history with hemp - a hardy crop that no longer can be legally grown in the United States - sparked a trip down memory lane for a number of readers across the state.

"It was like walking through a canopied jungle," says Curt Hellmer of Stoughton. "Or rows of mature corn without the thick leaves near the ground."

That's how Hellmer, now 55, recalls his childhood experiences some 50 years ago when he used to play in the 8- to 10-foot-tall hemp stalks in his grandfather's hemp fields. The family made money on the crop by selling it to a rope manufacturer in Platteville, Hellmer says.

Back when Hellmer was running through hemp fields as a kid, Wisconsin was the country's second-leading producer of hemp. That all changed when the plant, which contains minimal levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), became classified as a controlled substance in 1970.

When growing hemp was still legal in the United States, farmers had to pay $1 for a "special tax stamp" that allowed them to grow or produce "marihuana."

A copy of a permit that was issued to Lafayette farmer, Horatio Bale, in 1943 was emailed to the paper after last week's cover story.

Bale's son and daughter-in-law, Kurt and Joanna Bale, still live on the family farm. It's not uncommon, they say, to find hemp still growing in patches.

Thomas Fisher, 63, of Madison, says his father grew hemp on the family farm in Green Lake County. Like the Bale family, Fisher also has found old permits that were issued to his father.

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Fisher says his father remained an avid supporter of the crop even after it became illegal to grow.

The demise of hemp is due in large part to the fact it, like marijuana, contains THC. Hemp also looks and smells like marijuana. Despite these similarities, hemp is legally grown in dozens of other countries, including China, Australia, Japan, France, Germany and Canada.

Fisher says that until the day comes when the family can again grow hemp, they will stick to "corn, soybeans and vegetables, and of course, pockets of ditch weed."