Wisconsin, once one of the leading hemp producers in the United States, has broken back into the hemp production industry. After a nearly six-decade absence the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker last week approved a bill permitting local farmers the right to grow and harvest industrial hemp. Walker’s move makes Wisconsin the 35th state to allow hemp production and finally brings the state in line with all of its neighboring states. Numerous producers and tribal governments, including the Oneida Nation, are in the process of actively weighing options and seeking avenues to effectively enter the hemp industry.
“The Oneida Hemp Law is on our front burner right now,” Oneida Nation Councilman Daniel Guzman said. “Previous administrations have gotten involved with this, but now that Wisconsin is moving on making hemp production legal we’re definitely looking at our options. I’ve discussed with our Legislative Operating Committee (LOC) and our Legislative Reference Office (LRO) our need to get a jump on this because we were not involved with the current state legislation. We’re going to have to work with the state and see if we can negotiate and carve out a piece for our tribe.”
Guzman is scheduled to meet with the Oneida Nation’s Community Development Planning Committee (CDPC) the week of Dec. 4 to bring all of the tribe’s major players together to discuss potential hemp production options. “We’re going to receive an update on where the state currently is on the issue as well as where we are as a nation and how we want to move forward,” Guzman said. “We haven’t had that larger conversation yet so this meeting will help us determine where we want to be as far as developing hemp products. Are we going to plant and grow the actual hemp or are we just going to manufacture products? These questions will be discussed.”
The measure signed by Gov. Walker requires Native American tribes to acquire licenses from the state Department of Agriculture before growing hemp. Earlier this year the St. Croix Chippewa tribe in northern Wisconsin voted to start growing hemp. Past efforts to grow hemp, like those of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, were met by stiff opposition from the federal government. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) confiscated and destroyed the tribe’s entire crop in 2015. However this new measure signals a change in Wisconsin’s views on the overall value of the plant.
Before the Oneida Nation can move forward on any hemp production plans the tribe will ensure all legal avenues have been considered on the state and federal levels. “We’ll be looking into how other tribes have gone forward with this and been successful,” Guzman said. “We’ll be exploring the legalities of it and make sure we don’t have any issues. We are willing to work with everybody because we want to be able to create a new industry for Oneida.”
One possibility for the state’s tribes could be the creation of state compacts similar to those used for gaming agreements. “If we’re going to write legislation for Oneida then other tribes could possibly follow that as well,” Guzman said.
The potential benefits of producing hemp are numerous. Hemp products can include clothing, soap, cement, healthy food, and skin products. It’s also good for the soil it’s produced in. “This is an incredible potential revenue source because it’s renewable,” Guzman said. “It’s going to open up some new doors for us and as we look to the future because our current sources of revenue may not always be sustainable. Hemp could be a perfect opportunity for us because we may not necessarily know hemp, right now, but we sure know our agriculture. We have the land and we have people who know how to grow food and products who can easily switch over to hemp. The sky’s the limit with hemp.”