MON AM News: Binge drinking causing “significant number” of deaths in the state; Rapid expansion of hemp industry puts pressure on regulators

— Binge drinking in Wisconsin costs more than $2.6 billion in lost productivity each year, a recent study from the UW Population Health Institute shows. 

According to Julia Sherman, project coordinator for the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project, binge drinking causes “a significant number” of alcohol deaths in the state. 

“You lose their productivity for the rest of their life,” she told “We lose years of productivity.” 

Overall, binge drinking in the state costs nearly $4 billion per year — around $666 per state resident, the report shows. Wisconsin’s binge drinking rate in 2018 was 24 percent, compared to 16 percent for the U.S. median. 

As defined by the report, published earlier this month, binge drinking is five or more drinks per occasion for men, and four or more drinks for women. 

Aside from lost productivity — which contributes nearly two-thirds of the total cost — criminal justice costs related to binge drinking were $560 million in 2018, and related health care costs were $380 million.

Sherman said more people die from alcohol-related injuries than from diseases related to drinking. That’s why the lost productivity figure is so much higher than related costs for health care. 

“Alcohol-related diseases push up medical costs, but acute injuries — especially those that lead to death — relate to reductions in productivity,” she said.

See more: 

— Wisconsin’s nascent hemp industry exploded in size in the second year after the crop was made legal, with the number of licensed growers and processors expanding nearly sixfold from 335 in 2018 to just shy of 1,900 this year.

But the boom left regulators crisscrossing the state and struggling to keep up.

Brian Kuhn, director of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Bureau of Plant Industry, told that in order to adhere to strict regulatory demands, the agency had to hire 10 part-time workers, reassign 15 DATCP employees, and “reallocate basically the whole lab” for hemp testing.

“I can’t continue to reallocate staff from existing programs, to put their work on hold and focus on hemp as much as we have the last two years,” he said. “It’s not sustainable.”

Still, Sen. Patrick Testin — who is leading the charge on a broad bill that aims to continue the crop’s ascent into the mainstream — was not discouraged by what he called the state’s regulatory “growing pains.” The Stevens Point Republican said the newly legalized crop offers struggling farmers the opportunity to “diversify and incorporate a new plant into their portfolio.”

“I think a lot of people are seeing this as an opportunity to kind of raise up their margins and help sustain their family farms,” he said in an interview with

Hemp has enjoyed a renaissance in Wisconsin since it was reintroduced under a 2018 pilot program.

Prior to the 2018 program, hemp had not been planted in Wisconsin since 1957 and had been outlawed in the United States since 1970 when it was lumped in with its psychoactive cousin marijuana and classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The DEA defines Schedule 1 substances as those “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

But the 2014 federal farm bill paved the way for the crop’s comeback with a provision that drew distinctions between marijuana and hemp and allowed states to grow hemp “under an agricultural pilot program.”

State lawmakers took advantage of the opportunity in the waning days of 2017, passing legislation green-lighting a pilot program to reintroduce the crop in the state.

After a better-than-anticipated first growing season, lawmakers and regulators prepared for a hemp boom.

But the dramatic increase still took some by surprise.

“I don’t think any of us anticipated the amount of interest and number of growers that we would have enrolled in the program,” Testin said.

In addition to the massive growth in licenses, the crop’s physical footprint vastly expanded from roughly 1,900 acres in 2018 to over 5,000 acres spread across nearly every county in the state. 

See more in the Friday Report: 

— The conservative Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin is backing legislation from GOP authors that would enable the creation of direct primary care agreements between patients and doctors. 

The state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services recently passed the bill, which was authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin.  

AFP-WI State Director Eric Bott says the bill would remove barriers to care and help to reverse the state’s shortage of doctors. 

“This bill would help protect physicians seeking to practice [direct primary care] from inapplicable insurance regulations and empower them to grow their ability to treat more patients in their communities as needed,” Bott said in a statement. 

The Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians is also touting the bill following committee passage. According to a release from the group, direct primary care involves patients paying their doctor a flat fee to access “a range of comprehensive primary care services.” That includes checkups, preventive care, disease management, urgent care and more. 

Citing a study in the American Journal of Managed Care, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians says patients who get direct primary care are 52 percent less likely to enter a hospital than patients seeing a traditional private practice physician. The group says direct primary care fosters personal relationships between patients and doctors, and reduces dependence on more expensive care. 

WAFP has nearly 3,000 family medicine physicians in its statewide network. 

See the WAFP release:

See the AFP-WI release: 

— Madison is the top “untapped” mid-sized city in the country for startups, according to an online data aggregator called Fundera. 

The Wisconsin Technology Council is highlighting the ranking, noting the city has access to a well-educated labor pool and a modest cost of doing business. 

Fifty-seven percent of Madison residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the report shows. And Madison has been previously recognized for having a relatively high concentration of millennials compared to other U.S. cities. 

The report’s authors note the cost of living and renting office space are also comparatively low, while the median income of around $64,000 is just above the national average. 

“At just 73 VC deals over the last three years, Madison may best represent what it means for a city to be untapped,” report authors said. “The startup scene here is small, but there is potential for immense growth.” 

Rounding out the top three were Plano, Texas, and Saint Paul, Minn. No other Wisconsin city made the list of the top 45. 

See the full rankings: 

— Steve Lyons, president of SJL Government Affairs and Communications, appeared on ABC’s 20/20 program over the weekend to discuss the “Slenderman case,” in which 12-year-old Payton Leutner was stabbed by two of her classmates five years ago.

He has been the spokesman for Leutner and her family since the case made national headlines, and has done more than related 400 interviews since then. Friday’s interview was the first time Leutner spoke publicly about the incident. 

Lyons’ government affairs and communications firm specializes in public affairs, crisis management, legislative advocacy and more. 

See clips from the show: 


# Long-time Vermont battery producer moving to Wisconsin

# Wisconsin still lags in venture capital despite investments tripling over past 5 years

# Ray Cross to retire as UW System president

# Nonprofit group helps Milwaukee families who lack insurance



– Harley-Davidson removes president of global brand development Neil Grimmer


– Chemical spill causes evacuation of Arcadia poultry plant


– Lurie’s proposed mixed-use development in Bay View apparently back on


– Northwest Side Community Development Corporation awarded $1.2M in grants


– UW System President Ray Cross to retire

– ‘Toxic’ lab lasted for years. UW-Madison had little idea until a student died by suicide


– Generac makes minority investment in Canadian software company


– Gardner Pet Group will shut down West Bend factory, eliminating 36 jobs


– More than 180 Wisconsin businesses impacted by fraud case

– ‘I’m still discriminated against’: Wisconsin lawmakers propose easing burdens on marijuana offenders


– GM strike cost Strattec $3 million in 15 days


– Politics as usual? ‘Aldermanic privilege’ impacts Century City


– USPS pushing ahead with smaller Oak Creek project, but moving out of downtown is still an option

– Apartment and condo tower could launch broader downtown Kenosha redevelopment


– BuySeasons sharpens competitive edge by diversifying, hiring seasonal workers

– After 15 years, dream mall finally becomes a reality


– VR Galaxy offers virtual-reality entertainment on State Street


– Major travel writer convention to be held in Milwaukee next year


– Tom Still: Statistics point to a healthier entrepreneurial climate than imagined

– Rep. Melissa Sargent: Hygiene product accessibility matters, period.


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Health groups: Support bill that includes e-cigarettes in Wisconsin’s clean indoor air law

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: Scott Manley promoted to executive vice president

Dept. of Workforce Development: Wisconsin Business Closing and Mass Layoff Notice (WARN): Silgan Containers