Proposed bill would update Wisconsin's hemp laws, ban hemp mislabeling
Lawmakers say new legislation will help but consumers still need to be careful.
Just two years in, Wisconsin's hemp industry is booming. Last year, 250 people applied for a growers license. That number skyrocketed to about 1,500 in 2019. Senator Patrick Testin is the lead sponsor of new legislation to update Wisconsin's hemp laws.
"We want to make some changes that would make our program more user-friendly, open up more opportunities for Wisconsin farmers, processors, manufacturers, and our consumers," said Sen. Testin, R - Stevens Point.
For consumers, one of the most popular hemp products is CBD, which some claim helps with everything from aches and pains to anxiety. But in May, a CBS 58 investigation found several CBD products didn't contain what they claim. Some had very little CBD, others had none.
Rachel Cartwright who owns CBD Therapeutics says that's in part because there is no regulation of CBD and no required testing of products.
"Without those lab results you're just going to trust these companies and unfortunately as we learned in your first report, some of these companies aren't worthy of our trust," Cartwright said.
Senator Testin says part of this new legislation could help.
"Probably one of the biggest components of this bill is a truth in the labeling component," Sen. Testin said.
That part of the bill prohibits a person from mislabeling hemp or a hemp product and selling any mislabeled hemp or hemp products.
"I believe this is going to put us in a much better place and give assurances that these products are what they claim to be," said Sen. Testin.
But while the bill bans mislabeling it still doesn't require CBD products to be tested.
"That may be something that the Feds move into. I think right now we're waiting to see what FDA does," says Brian Kuhn with Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).
Kuhn says because the hemp industry is so new and growing rapidly, the department is just trying to keep up.
"It's almost education by immersion," Kuhn said.
Legislators say the new bill will give DATCP more authority to write rules, so in the future, it could implement CBD product testing and require CBD retailers to get a license.
"I'm hoping that it will be in the near future, for a couple of reasons. I want people to be motivated to use the farmer from Wisconsin. I want people to be motivated to use the producer from Wisconsin," said Senator Lena Taylor, D - Milwaukee.
Kuhn says it could happen, but right now the department's focus is on the hemp crop itself.
"If the FDA comes out with clarifications on CBD and other things like that come in time, we'll need to continue to tweak this program for a number of years," said Kuhn.
Cartwright already has her products tested and supports required testing but adds right now there aren't enough testing labs.
"We couldn't really include the testing in the bill, if we don't have the infrastructure, because again, it would regulate or inhibit the market in a way that we wouldn't currently want to do," Cartwright said.
In the meantime, it's still a buyers beware market and legislators and DATCP encourage consumers to be educated.
"Bottom line is to be looking for independent testing. If those things are labeled, they've been produced under a state hemp program but looking for that third-party verified, verified concentrations," Kuhn said.
Another big challenge for the DATCP is staffing. There are only about 10 people working on the hemp program, all with other jobs. They do expect more funding to help with that.
Senator Testin says he hopes the new hemp legislation is passed into law by early fall.