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Law enforcement concerned about hemp bill OWI loophole

Madison (WKOW) — Lawmakers are hoping a new bill will help Wisconsin’s hemp industry continue to grow, but some law enforcement agencies are worried about a provision allowing drivers to get behind the wheel with trace amounts of THC in their blood.

There was a public hearing Thursday for the Growing Opportunities Act, a bipartisan bill designed to change Wisconsin hemp law to be consistent with a federal law passed last year.

“If we do not pass this legislation, Wisconsin hemp producers will fall by the wayside while all other states continue to produce,” said Larry Konopacki of the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance.

While sheriffs and other top law enforcement officers don’t have a problem with the bill itself, they are concerned about a provision that would allow drivers to have a small amount of THC in their blood without being charged with an OWI.

Right now, Wisconsin is one of 12 states that have a zero-tolerance THC policy, which would mean the proposed provision would change that.

Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt worries that a loophole could emerge, allowing someone driving under the influence of marijuana not to be charged with an OWI.

“It does open up that OWI law and potentially puts our citizens at risk,” he said.

Republican Senator Patrick Testin, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a press conference Thursday that the provision was likely to be removed, and that he felt good about the conversations it inspired.

“Hopefully we can get to a point where we have an affirmative defense, much like we do with other controlled substances on state statutes,” he said.

While both sides are optimistic, negotiations continue.

“I think we can come up with some kind of an agreement that will make everybody happy, and we can get the hemp provisions passed while still keeping the community safe,” Sheriff Schmidt said.

Senator Testin says the bill will be tweaked and headed to executive session in the coming weeks.

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