Wisconsin's first hemp store battles Attorney General to keep doors open

Posted at 10:26 PM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 23:26:51-04

Wisconsin's first hemp store is open for business, but just two weeks in, the owner is fighting to keep his doors open.

Joel Peterson has been told what he's selling is illegal despite a new state law that allows farmers to grow and sell hemp.

Hemp is grown for two main reasons. First, its fibers are used to make anything from bracelets to clothing. Second, and far more profitable for those like Peterson, its oil is used for medicine. Confusion over a new state law could put Peterson and some farmers out of business.

In the sleepy downtown of Black River Falls, one store on Main Street is getting a lot of attention.

"It's my first time coming in here," said customer Tyler Ward.

Ward of Tennessee is eager to find out if hemp oil can heal.

"I've got high blood pressure on a side of my family," he said. "Hopefully it helps calm me down."

Owner Joel Peterson is a pioneer in the hemp industry. Well, in Wisconsin anyway. Opening day two weeks ago at Priceland Hemp brought huge crowds.

"We had probably 900 people that came through here between Friday and Saturday," he said. 

Peterson said he has sold around $30,000 worth of product since. One of the hottest items is hemp oil called cannabidiol or CBD for short. Unlike marijuana, it doesn't produce a high.

"A lot of the people we work with have cancer," Peterson said.

Wisconsin lawmakers lifted a ban on hemp six months ago. For the first time in 75 years, Wisconsinites can grow, process and sell it if they pass a background check for drug convictions.

"Were licensed to process it, import it, export it, sample it and sell it," said Peterson.

Peterson thought he was clear to open, but now the State Attorney General's office is threatening to take legal action against him.

"It's scary because myself and a lot of other people have several thousand dollars invested," Peterson said.

That fear made Peterson shut down for two days. Attorney General Brad Schimel sent a letter to both Priceland Hemp and law enforcement across the state. It read in part, "an individual may possess CBD only if he/she has a doctor's certification .... only a physician or pharmacy may sell CBD." Schimel also said CBD oil cannot be processed in the state.

"My first reaction was disbelief," said Rob Richard with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. "I was surprised they waited this long to do something like this.

More than 70 farmers have been approved to grow industrial hemp this year, but Richard argues Schimel's ruling renders the crop useless in Wisconsin.

"For those farmers who are growing hemp for the purpose of producing CBD oil, those farmers that are contracted with processors, they are out of luck," Richard said.

That includes Peterson who bought nearly $50,000 worth of hemp seed to become his own supplier.

"It's just amazing to me that a plant so natural like this would be prevented from people," Peterson said.

Schimel's office said farmers can grow hemp and take their crop out of state to have it processed for CBD oil. Although, it appears that would be breaking federal law. Crossing state lines with hemp would be considered a felony trafficking offense.

TODAY'S TMJ4 asked Schimel for an interview, but we were told he wasn't available.