Hemp plant

The number of people who have applied for licenses to grow industrial hemp in Wisconsin in 2019 is nearly six times more than applicants in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

A money maker for Wisconsin farmers decades ago could become a money maker for new growers today.

Industrial hemp, an old crop that started anew in Wisconsin agriculture last year, could turn into a full-fledged industry this year if the number of applications to grow it is an indication.

Almost 2,100 applications to grow or process industrial hemp have been received by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for 2019, nearly a six-fold increase from the less than 350 licenses issued in 2018.

State officials said a big reason for the increase is the removal of industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act as part of the 2018 Farm Bill passed late in the year and signed by President Donald Trump.

“That removed much of the legal uncertainty that may have held participation back somewhat last year,” said Brian Kuhn, director of DATCP’s Plant Industry Bureau, which includes hemp.

To date, 1,405 growers have applied to grow industrial hemp in 2019 in Wisconsin, compared to 247 grower licenses issued in 2018, and 692 have applied to process hemp, up from 100 in 2018.

Most of the applicants are first-time growers and processors. With the surge in interest, DATCP said it might take six to eight weeks to get applications processed.

“Unless you have a felony drug conviction in your background check, you will receive your license in time to grow or process this year,” Kuhn said.

Wisconsin does not allow felony drug offenders, on the federal or any state’s level, to get industrial hemp licenses.

Successful applicants for industrial hemp growers and processors get a lifetime license, but need to register with the state every year.

Industrial hemp was a big business in Wisconsin, with the fiber in the plant used to make rope, until about 50 years ago.

When THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was put on the controlled substances list in the 1970s, hemp went out of fashion as a crop, even though there is virtually no THC in hemp.

Today, industrial hemp is harvested for grain and also for CBD oil.

The state didn’t say how much industrial hemp was produced in 2018, when bad weather was a setback for many first-time growers.

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Bill Novak is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.