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St. Croix Chippewa ready to grow hemp in Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin tribe is preparing to grow hemp in hopes of extracting oil from the plant that could help treat seizures and other health troubles, despite uncertainty over the crop’s legality.

The St. Croix Chippewa plan to begin production at the end of the month, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Parents of children who suffer seizures contend cannabidiol oil, a hemp extract, can help ease the symptoms.

The oil doesn’t cause a high because it contains much less THC – a psychoactive chemical – than marijuana, but it’s illegal to produce or sell it in Wisconsin. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, however, signed a bill in April that makes possession legal with a doctor’s certification.

The St. Croix Chippewa argue that since the state has chosen to regulate the oil it can’t enforce a production prohibition on tribal lands because of a federal law that limits how states can enforce criminal law on reservations.

Growing hemp to obtain the oil remains illegal in Wisconsin and the Legislature would have to change the law before the St. Croix Chippewa could legally cultivate the plant, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said on Monday during a news conference that promoted the state’s Drug Take Back Day.

Schimel, a Republican, pointed out that the Menominee tribe tried to grow hemp in 2015 and federal authorities destroyed the crop, costing the tribe millions of dollars.

“Right now the law really doesn’t permit the production of marijuana to make CBD oil in Wisconsin,” he said. “So they’re going to want to take this very cautiously.”

The Burnett County Board of Supervisors supports the tribe’s plan, board chair Don Taylor said in a letter last week.

“Families need a safe, reliable distributor of cannabidiol and the tribe’s willingness to serve in that capacity is absolutely critical right now,” said Elmer Emery, tribal council member .

The operation will provide jobs to a county with high unemployment rates, Emery said. It will initially employ about 15 workers.

The tribe plans to spend about $1.2 million on startup costs, said Jeff Cormell, the tribe’s lawyer. Many tribes are considering growing hemp or marijuana to offset declines in casino revenue, he said.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to provide this medicine,” Cormell said. “It’s not just a business decision. It’s about families, it’s about health care.”

Hemp can also be used to produce rope, building materials, body products, biodiesel and nutritional supplements.

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