Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Could The County Clone Hemp Plants?

Report on county growing hemp is not positive. But expert says the study all wrong.

By - Apr 24th, 2019 12:05 pm
Hemp. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Hemp. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Is Milwaukee County taking hemp production seriously? It’s hard to tell.

In August 2018, Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez sponsored a resolution asking the Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture to produce a report to study the following: “Growing and producing industrial hemp, hemp seeds, cannabinoid oil and a proposal for a grow education resource center.”

That report was delivered to the Committee on Parks, Energy and Environment Monday. Parks staff in the report recommended that Milwaukee County not invest in hemp production any time soon.

The report, however, drew rebukes from Ortiz-Velez and State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). Taylor is a strong supporter of hemp cultivation, and was was involved in drafting the legislation that legalized it in Wisconsin. Both officials said there was incorrect information in the report from the Parks Department. Specifically, they believed the county could generate more revenue through hemp cultivation that the report found, and this could be done with less space than the report suggested.

The report’s market research suggested that hemp production, at a scale that would generate revenue, requires “vast amounts of land.” Hardly the type of operation that could be run in the greenhouses. The per-acre yields and potential revenue from those yields left the Parks Department concluding that the county could expect a measly $450 an acre. Their numbers come from a 2017 study by Cornell University entitled Industrial Hemp: From Seed to Market.

But Ortiz-Velez and Taylor both said the opportunity for hemp cultivation in the greenhouses was in growing clones for growers around the country (using asexual reproduction to create exact replicas of the best performing plants, which can be sold to other growers) and in the specific organic hemp used for CBD products. Neither of these things were discussed in the Parks report. And Ortiz-Velez and Taylor had an expert from Colorado come to the Parks committee Monday to provide testimony.

Their expert was Patty Zanin. Zanin is a real estate agent from Colorado involved with a business called Intelligent Cannabis Solutions LLC. She has been involved with hemp cultivation for six years. She told the committee the numbers in their report don’t make sense. Pointing to the yields per acre and the money per acre, she said: “You really aren’t very good at what you’re doing if that’s what you’re doing.”

She told the committee, after seeing the Mitchell Park Greenhouses, she thought the county could see more than $1 million in profit annually if it grew clones. “I think you guys need a lot of help,” she told the committee.

When Sup. Sheldon Wasserman asked her what the county would need to spend for help from a consultant like her, she told the committee she charges $250 an hour or $1,000 a day.

Wasserman and Sup. Marcelia Nicholson both voiced support for Ortiz-Velez’s efforts. Wasserman said he would back the proposal largely because of the county’s financial trouble. Ortiz-Velez has proposed that revenues from hemp cultivation could be used to defray the cost of repairing the domes. Wasserman said there is no money for the domes right now. Unless the county manages to raise money, somehow, he warned, “We might say goodbye to those domes.”

The Parks report also looked at establishing a Grow Education Resource Center at the greenhouses to, “Study hemp, hemp seeds, and cannabinoid oil, placing the county on the frontier of new agricultural practices,” as the resolution read. To do this, the county would likely have to partner with an existing research institution, like a university, to lead this function because the county doesn’t have the staff or the institutional knowledge for something like that.

The laws around marijuana legalization and hemp cultivation are in a state of flux. New laws at the state and federal level are legalizing the cultivation of hemp, and new legislation will also be needed at the state level to ensure state standards are in line with federal standards. And Gov. Tony Evers strongly supports legalizing medical marijuana and is open to considering full legalization, but faces a resistant Republican majority in the Legislature on the issue. For these reasons, the report concluded, the county should not pursue hemp cultivation at the Mitchell Park greenhouses until these issues are resolved. 

But Ortiz-Velez is pushing hard on this, she has the support of Sen. Taylor, and at least the nominal support of a few fellow supervisors.

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Categories: MKE County, Politics

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