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Tribe's Hemp Code Amended to Allow for Fiber and Future THC Growing

By Joe Morey

News Editor

After LCO’s Agricultural Hemp Manager, Joe Rothberger, requested a change in the Tribe’s Industrial Hemp Code to allow for the growing operation to focus on fiber and seed production, moving away from CBD oils, the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) approved amending the Code.

Rothberger reported on Jan. 23, 2023, that there were some difficulties in CBD production in 2022, and that pivoting the hemp research to focus on the fiber and seed production would be more economically feasible to produce on the Reservation.

In order to make that transfer, Rothberger said the Code would have to be changed from only growing feminized seeds or female hemp plants.

The amended Code eliminated the rule that any male plants discovered during cultivation would be immediately destroyed. The Code now allows for both male and female seeding.

According to Rothberger, the amended Code would also better prepare the Tribe for the hemp operation to switch quickly to marijuana once the state legalizes it.

According to Rothberger, in order to amend the Tribal Code, a review process with legal counsel took place and the Code was resubmitted to USDA for approval. The timeline had to occur before the start of the 2023 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,” Rothberger explained.

He said 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 stated 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.

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.


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