Tribal Leaders Discuss Hemp Pilot Program with Mole Lake
By Joe Morey News Editor
The LCO Tribal Governing Board heard a presentation from Thi Le, Director of Operations for the Sokaogon Medicinal Corporation (SMC), and Chris McGeshik, former chairman of the Mole Lake Sokaogon Tribe and current President of SMC, to share their experience with their Hemp Pilot Program.
TGB members Tweed Shuman and Gary “Little Guy” Clause attended a Hemp Conference in Oneida. At that conference, they approached Le and McGeshik and asked them to visit Lac Courte Oreilles to share their experiences.
McGeshik explained the tribe decided to jump in a few years ago and the membership overwhelmingly approved. They held a referendum with over 200 in support and only 17 voted against.
“We developed our own marijuana code and CBD oil code,” McGeshik said. “Now we are looking at tweaking our code because things are changing daily.”
“We’ve been navigating for a couple of years and it’s rapidly changing,” Le said.
The Sokaogon Tribe decided on building an indoor facility which is currently under construction but they plan to be growing their first plants beginning on January 2 of 2020. The facility is 10,000 square feet.
“We decided on the indoor facility because we could better control it,” McGeshik said. He went on to say with an indoor grow operation they will be able to grow four cycles annually. He also explained that you can’t insure your crop and with an outdoor grow there could be factors such as weather or cross-pollination that can devastate your grow.
In 2017, Le was hired full-time by the tribe. Le became the point person to make sure quality controls were in place. Le added about the indoor grow that they control lights, temperature, nutrients and more.
“We didn’t want a limited season,” Le said. She said if you have a very wet year it will affect your crop, with indoor they will have a consistent crop every year.
She also said northern Wisconsin is not the optimal conditions for growing like south Colorado would be.
McGeshik said you need the right people in place and they have that person with Le. He said their tribe made a lot of mistakes and they are glad to share with our tribe to help us avoid making those same mistakes.
The Mole Lake Sokaogon chose to build a pole barn for their controlled facility versus a greenhouse because it’s very expensive because of the glass and the thickness to insulate and it’s heat-tempered.
In discussing her knowledge of the growing itself, Le explained they will purchase the seeds and start with that, and after first batch will choose the females, the strong ones are the mothers, and then they will clone them. She said they can stay rigorous for five to ten years.
Le said one male can destroy the crop if they are allowed to pollinate the female. She said you will no longer have CBD. She said this isn’t the case with hemp for fiber or grain, this is particular to growing for CBD oil.
Le said it’s important to have a team that understands a growing facility, irrigation, lighting, environmental impacts, and setting up facilities.
“I recommend finding someone with at least an introduction to growing and someone who is passionate and determined and cares about your operation,” Le said. She added that consultants come at a price but they saved their operation a lot of money.
Le said regarding testing of the plant they are using a 3rd party because it’s very expensive to build your own testing facility, upwards to a million dollars for the equipment used.
In House Meeting
The TGB met with officials from LCO Conservation and tribal attorney, Dyllan Linehan, to discuss a plan for the tribe’s future hemp operation prior to meeting with Mole Lake. Initial discussion has tribal leaders creating a department underneath LCO Conservation for the hemp operation, and utilizing acreage in the fields next to their offices and the LCO Police Department.
LCO Tribal Attorney Dyllan Linehan said a pilot project may require an investment of $300,000 to $500,000 to give it a better chance of success. Costs expected include consultants, a manager of the pilot project, equipment, seeds, processing, a greenhouse, testing.
“We need a plan of action,” stated LCO Chairman Louis Taylor. “We are not making a decision today, but we need a starting point.”
LCO Conservation Director Brian Bisonette said we need to find the right person to help get it started.
“We need someone here to tell us what the process is going to take,” Bisonette said.
“We need to create the department, give them the budget and hire two experts,” Linehan advised. “To do it right we need at least two people full time. We need hoop houses, soil, seeds, a director, and agronomist or botanist. You’re initial invest will be at least $200,000 to $300,000.”
Linehan explained a lot of farmers entering the hemp industry are just throwing seeds in the ground and they are having a lot of trials and tribulations.
“There’s a lot of hype and that’s what gets them going,” Linehan said. “We aren’t going to make money right out of the gate. A pretty large investment is needed and there are a lot of ways to fail.
Linehan still recommends the tribe get started right away. He said the tribe will also need a processing option.
“There is a tremendous need for processing,” Linehan stated. “If we built a processing facility, we could serve other tribes and farmers.”
Following the meeting with Mole Lake, tribal leaders are considering one option to contract with Mole Lake to process in their facility.
Linehan went on to state CBD oil is where most money is at, but he explained we could make a projection of what we’ll make in CBD oil in one year and then the next year there could be hundreds more producers and we’re not going to get the same.
Chairman Taylor said he believes the tribe should start hemp right away so that if and when marijuana is legalized in Wisconsin, our tribe would be ready.
“We’ll have everything set up, we’ll be familiar when the state legalizes marijuana,” Linehan stated. “Our soil will be ready. Our harvesting will be ready. In all of it, we’ll be ready.”
Linehan also said any personnel working on the hemp operation could be switched over to do both, hemp and marijuana should it be legalized.
LCO Conservation’s Brett McConnell said Conservation needs to test the soil in the fields by their offices. He explained after testing they could plant some rye to get nutrients and see the health of the soil. “We need to do this right away.”