A bill to expand the state’s hemp industry faces dwindling opposition from law enforcement groups after a Senate amendment addressed their concerns.
The amendment alters a section of the bill that would have eliminated THC — the main psychoactive substance in marijuana — from the state’s list of controlled substances for OWIs.
The bipartisan legislation, SB 188, unanimously passed the Senate Agriculture, Revenue and Financial Institutions Committee Tuesday after getting a public hearing in May. The bill aims to align state statute with newly passed federal regulations on hemp.
Supporters of the bill say it would give the state more control over how hemp is regulated as the burgeoning industry continues to grow.
Initially, a handful of law enforcement groups were opposed to the proposal, fearing it would make it easier for residents to drive under the influence of THC. But now they’ve largely switched their positions to neutral.
According to the state Legislative Council, two tracks exist in state law for prosecuting people for operating vehicles while intoxicated — the impairment track, and the restricted controlled substance track, or RCS track.
Under the impairment route, the prosecution aims to show the driver was too impaired to safely operate their vehicle. But under the RCS track, the prosecution rests on whether the driver had a certain amount of a controlled substance in their system.
Before the amendment, the original bill would have eliminated the RCS track for THC, meaning prosecutions for THC-related OWIs would all be under the impairment track, according to Leg Council.
Instead of removing THC completely from the RCS track, the amendment would set a certain limit for prohibition: one nanogram per milliliter, in this case. Under the amendment, drivers couldn’t legally drive with a higher concentration of THC in their blood. Leg Council says the limit corresponds exactly to the level of accuracy for THC blood tests performed by the state.
The amendment also changes a section of the bill related to chemical analysis of the blood, expanding it to include other biological materials.
The Badger State Sheriffs’ Association and Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association say the amendment addressed their concerns with the bill, but they still aren’t supporting it. The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin Professional Police Association are also neutral.
On the state’s Ethics Commission lobbying site, the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association is still officially registered against the bill, but the group says it’s neutral if the provision to remove THC from the list of controlled substances for operating certain vehicles and firearms is cut from the bill.
Groups registered in support include the Wisconsin Bankers Association, the Midwest Food Products Association, the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the Wisconsin Grocers Association and others.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, who has championed the industrial hemp effort in Wisconsin, and GOP Rep. Tony Kurtz, who runs a small hemp farm in his hometown of Wonewoc. It also has the support of a number of Democratic lawmakers.
The Assembly version of the bill hasn’t had a public hearing yet. The office of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about when the bill will go before the full Senate.
See the bill:
See the amendment:
See Wisconsin Ethics Commission lobbying information:
–By Alex Moe