Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Should County Go Into Hemp Business?

Facing huge budget problems, supervisors push for county to grow and sell hemp.

By - Sep 17th, 2018 01:18 pm
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Hemp. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Hemp. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Milwaukee County may soon begin studying the viability and revenue potential of growing industrial hemp in Mitchell Park greenhouses.

County Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez entered a resolution that will have the Parks Department study this proposal, along with potentially seeking certification from the federal government to grow medical marijuana for research purposes and potentially developing a grow education resource center.

The proposal passed unanimously through the Parks Energy and Environment Committee. And along with being a progressive proposal, the potential revenue from the county producing hemp appeared to greatly interest supervisors staring down the barrel of the county’s current budget crisis — not to mention a long-term structural budget problem driving by the county’s infamous pension backdrop, which has cost taxpayers more than $300 million.

Just this year a proposal to charge for parking at county parks to generate a little more revenue for a beleaguered county budget created an uproar in the community. It was eventually tossed out, but the budget woes remain. “The parks department has been starved for money,” said supervisor Steven Shea, who supports the hemp proposal.

For more than a year now, the county has been studying and developing a plan for what to do with the Mitchell Park Domes. But it still remains unclear how it will pay for any major upgrades. Supervisors at committee Friday noted there frankly is no money for the domes as of right now. So the county will need to get creative, and this proposal is surely that.

Asked for comment on the proposal, County Executive Chris Abele’s office declined to come down on one side or the other and offered this oh-so-careful comment: “Currently, we are still taking a look at the relevant issues around that proposal.” Chairman Theo Lipscomb outright declined to comment. But the resolution will be before him this week at the meeting of the full county board.

The resolution, should it pass at that meeting, will direct the Parks Department to study if and how the county could begin producing hemp in the greenhouses, and how much revenue they could expect from the venture. Parks Director Guy Smith said right now the department likely doesn’t have sufficient staffing to begin hemp production and that he is unaware of any regulatory concerns regarding the county growing hemp in their greenhouses. But Smith said “I’m always open to revenue opportunities.”

Ortiz-Velez said the production could generate, “upwards of millions a year.” A gentleman that spoke during public comments at the committee meeting said hemp is worth roughly $20,000 an acre. But a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture places the value per acre of hemp cultivation significantly below that $20,000 figure.

The return on an acre of hemp varies and can be anywhere from just more than $100 to nearly $700 per acre. But these figures from the USDA are assuming some costs to the producer that the county wouldn’t face.

The best money is in certified-hemp-seeds cultivation. These must be certified by the Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies as a genetic type that is less than .3 percent THC. Right now nearly all certified seeds come from Canada. And the first certified seed type to come from the United States was certified in January of this year, coming out of Colorado.

The county’s greenhouses could provide a “state-of-the-art facility,” Ortiz-Velez said. The $14 million facilities are largely self sustaining and would save the county the burdensome capital expense some other entity might incur trying to get into this market.

Ortiz-Velez thinks Milwaukee could become an industry leader in hemp production and cultivation. Another possibility, should state law change, is getting into the medical marijuana business. The federal government is now looking at licensing more medical marijuana research facilities. If the greenhouses became such a facility, it would allow Milwaukee to become the leader in industry best practices should medical or legalized marijuana ever come to the state. Which, judging by the majority support such proposals enjoy in Wisconsin, could be on the horizon.

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Categories: Politics

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