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Hemp Manager Wants Tribe to Prepare for THC Legalization

By Joe Morey

News Editor


Joe Rothberger, LCO’s Agricultural Hemp Manager, gave a report to the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) on Jan. 23 at its weekly meeting, stating that 2022 was a difficult year for the Tribe’s hemp production.


“There were issues with testing and cultivation which lead towards the direction of CBD being not economically feasible to produce on Reservation,” Rothberger reported. “The main take away is pivoting the hemp research to continue but with a focus on Fiber and Seed production.”


Rothberger also presented a proposal for preparing the Tribe's hemp operation to switch quickly to marijuana once the state legalizes it.


Rothberger told the TGB if hemp production were to veer from a CBD focus to fiber, the Tribal Hemp Code would have to be amended from the way it is currently written. He also said a new grant cycle would need to be applied for.


Rothberger said the current 3-year UW-Madison grant that funded the CBD trials at LCO will be done in August.


“We don’t have anymore growing in that grant as of now. At this point what remains of the grant is UW compiling their data.”


Rothberger said now would be the time to pivot away to doing our own fiber research. He explained there were two options to take, one being a new grant for $220,000 in funds, which would be the same one that was just done, or they apply for an area of expertise grant in the amount of $500,000 for 3 years, which would allow the Tribe to continue the research with the current crops through the UW System.


According to Rothberger, our current tribal code only allows female seeding, but for fiber research, the code would have to be changed to allow both male and female seeding.


The current code states “if cultivation of Hemp is to occur outdoors, only feminized Seed and/or female Hemp plants will be cultivated and that any male plants discovered during cultivation will be immediately destroyed.”


According to Rothberger, in order to amend the Tribal Code, a review process with legal counsel needs to take place, and resubmitting to USDA for approval. The timeline for this needs to take place prior to 2023 growing season.


“CBD is difficult to sustain because of the market. There’s not enough to sell wholesale. To pull it together would cost more than the profit we can make,” he stated.


He explained how from a usable standpoint, fiber is more usable than CBD. Moving into fiber would be much easier and a couple products from the fiber, Rothberger mentioned, would be hempcrete and animal bedding.


“Fiber processing is not like a CBD process. It’s more like bailing hay and you don’t need a drying space,” Rothberger added.


Rothberger also proposed a plan to get the Tribe prepared for when the state legalizes THC. He stated if the Tribe moves forward with his proposal, this would have the Tribe in a position to “flip the switch” when THC becomes legal in Wisconsin, whether it be recreational or medicinal.


“A very expensive part of THC production would be the seeds, but as we gain momentum, the goal would be to never purchase seed again. Each year we’d collect more seeds over the first couple years,” Rothberger noted.


In his report, he states saving seed would allow for less capital investing year to year to acquire seeds. This would be steps in the direction of true seed sovereignty for the tribe. The major issue here lies within the LCO Tribal Code License Agreement between cultivator and Division of Agriculture. The framework limits the outdoor production to feminized seed only.


Rothberger’s plan for THC would involve construction of a 10,000 sq foot building indoor production facility producing approximately 1,500 lbs annually, or approximately 125 lbs per month with 12-15 persons employed to handle the workload. He estimated the cost would be one million dollars with a 3-year return on investment. This facility would have year-round production capacity.


“As legalization looms nearer to reality in Wisconsin, being ahead of the curve in terms of participation means a great deal of work needs to be done,” Rothberger reported. “Are we going to be cultivators, retailers or consumers? Each type of license deals with very specific needs, and every outcome has its own project timeline if they were to flip the switch on legalization. A solid plan is needed if we choose to be involved at this level.”


Although with the current state legislature, recreational weed is less likely to be approved anytime soon, Rothberger said medicinal weed may have a better chance.


“Gov. Tony Evers said he'll reintroduce a plan to legalize marijuana for recreational use as part of the budget he unveils to lawmakers, but Evers said he'd also sign a bill to legalize medicinal marijuana if GOP lawmakers send one to his desk.”


Evers claims it will add 160 million into the state budget.


In Rothberger’s report, he shared information on the CBD Trials for 2021-2022.


2021 - Year One: Site - Across from LCO Public Works 400+ plants were grown and produced on approximately 1 acre. 6/10 Strains cultivated passed the 0.3% THC threshold. No product was sold on the open market. Minor issues with theft at the end of season.


2022 - Year Two: Site - LCOOU Research Farm 300+ plants were grown and produced on approximately 1 acre. 4/15 strains passed the 0.3% thc threshold, with 6 having failed testing due to mold exposure in the sample. Minor issues with the companions in our trial and no data was submitted to UW for research. Launched UW Madison Website - https://www.emergingcropswi.org/hemp.html


2023 - Year Three: Site: LCOOU Research Farm Unknown if we are going to be able to acquire seeds from UW Madison. Looking at options for the upcoming growing season.

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