Northwest Wisconsin Chippewa ready to grow hemp for medical purposes


Sara Tiradossi

Northwest Wisconsin Chippewa would be the first of the state’s 11 tribes to start growing hemp for medicinal purposes.

The St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin is set to start growing hemp to make cannabidiol, or CBD, treat seizures and other medical conditions, and provide jobs as well.

This year, Wisconsin made changes to a previous law that made the use of oil legal to treat some medical conditions. Access to the oil has now been facilitated with a doctor’s certification stating it would be used to treat a medical condition.

However, the oil in Wisconsin is still difficult to obtain and some consumers have to travel to Minnesota or have it mailed to them.

“Families need a safe, reliable distributor of cannabidiol and the Tribe’s willingness to serve in that capacity is absolutely crititical right now,” tribal council member Elmer Emery said, adding the operation will also provide “much needed jobs and industry in a county with of the highest unemployment rates in the State.”

If the other 10 tribes in Wisconsin were to start their own hemp-growing operations, they could generate $1.8 billion in sales a year nationwide by 2020.

The cultivation of the plant in Wisconsin is still illegal, but because the state has chosen to regulate CBD, the tribe said it cannot enforce criminal laws related to the production of CBD oil.

Johnny Koremenos, Wisconsin Department of Justice spokesman, said the tribes are well aware of the limitations imposed by state and federal law on CBD oil, and he will not engage in a back-and-forth through the media with respect to the issue.

In 2015, another the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin tribe tried to grow hemp, but fields were quickly destroyed by federal agents.

Bard Bartlett, Senior counsel at McAllister Garfield, a Denver-based law firm that specializes in cannabis law, said St. Croix’s attempt will be different than the Menominee’s because the tribe has been transparent and adhered to all points of a 2014 U.S. Department of Justice Indian County marijuana policy.

Therefore, the St. Croix Chippewa will be able to grow hemp in a former fish hatchery building on tribal lands in Burnett County.

“It’s not like they’re growing marijuana for recreational purposes and people are going to get high off this,” Bartlett said. “This is the tribe stepping up to the plate to get involved in an industry where the state has opened the door. … There’s a wide-open market here for cannabidiol.”

According to the tribe’s lawyer Jeff Cormell, the tribe wants to set up the facility at the end of the month and estimates $1.2 million on start up costs. Initially, about 15 employers will work in the 20,000 square feet facility, with expectations to expand and hire more workers in retail, production, packaging and distribution.

“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.”