Report recommends Milwaukee County hold off on industrial hemp at Mitchell Park

Cites small greenhouse, evolving legislation

The Mitchell Park Domes

The greenhouse behind Milwaukee County’s Mitchell Park Domes is too small to accommodate a successful industrial hemp growing operation, according to a new report assessing its viability.

The Mitchell Park Domes

The county board commissioned the study in fall 2018 to examine the possibility of growing and producing industrial hemp, hemp seeds and cannabinoid oil at the county greenhouse, as a new source of revenue for the parks system. The study also examined the possibility of converting the greenhouse into an education resource center, where the county and community partners could study hemp, and certification station, which would allow staff to test oils from other growers that have been produced for medicinal use.

The study recommends the county hold off on pursuing the idea, given the evolving state legislation regarding hemp and marijuana, along with the greenhouse space limitations.

In 2017, Wisconsin legalized the growing and processing of industrial hemp through the Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Program. The 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp, with numerous restrictions.

Industrial hemp has a variety of applications. It comes from the same genus as the plants used for marijuana, but must contain no more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The state has also allowed the use of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which can have medical benefits without the effects of THC.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed a series of changes to Wisconsin’s marijuana laws, including legalizing medical use and decriminalizing possession of small amounts.

“…it is recommended that Milwaukee County allow time for the State of Wisconsin to resolve the issue of marijuana legalization and assess any potential changes of state permitting in light of changing attitudes towards hemp at the federal level prior to pursuing any hemp-related program,” said a memo from Guy Smith, executive director of Milwaukee County Parks, to the county board.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez in September 2018 called for a study examining the viability of hemp production, research and certification at the county greenhouse facility.

The county’s request of information yielded three responses, one of which suggested the county not grow hemp in the greenhouses and instead focus on other uses for the space that “had a higher public purpose.” Another response proposed a business plan that would require the county to invest $200,000 in new lighting and equipment and install a solar facility in Mitchell park for an unknown amount.

The Mitchell Park greenhouse facility, which is located behind the Domes, totals more than 60,000 square feet and includes temperature, shade and lighting controls, along with systems for capturing and saving snow and rainwater.

According to the report, the average cost of hemp production is about 46 cents per pound and the average revenue on hemp sales about 70 cents per pound.

“…hemp production is an industrial agricultural operation that requires vast a mounts of land to be profitable and the Mitchell Park Greenhouses do not have adequate space to accommodate a successful industrial growing operation,” the report says.

The study also examined case studies of other hemp research facilities, most of which are based at universities, including Purdue University, Cornell University and University of Kentucky. The report recommended that Milwaukee County’s education resource center concept should instead be led by universities that are better suited to engage in hemp research.

The county’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee will review the study’s findings Monday afternoon.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.