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What are ‘hemp samplers’ and why does Wisconsin want more of them?

Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is encouraging residents to become certified hemp samplers, reports Wisconsin Public Radio.

So — what’s a hemp sampler, exactly, and why does Wisconsin want more of them?

In short, a hemp sampler is a certified field inspector, visiting hemp producers and taking samples of their crop, then delivering said samples to a lab to test whether the plants contain less than 0.3% THC.

Right now, Wisconsin has a grand total of two people certified by the USDA to do this, according to the USDA’s list of certified samplers. This could be a problem when the state hands regulatory authority of hemp over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

Under Wisconsin’s four-year hemp pilot program, the state oversaw the sampling process. But with the shift, hemp sampling will move to the private sector.

Under Wisconsin’s four-year hemp pilot program, the state oversaw the sampling process. But with the shift, hemp sampling will move to the private sector.

The shift could save hemp farmers money, thanks to the elimination of state licensing fees and (potentially) more competitive prices for sampling and testing services, Mitchell Schmidt wrote for the Wisconsin State Journal in September.

“[O]ur thought on this whole process was we wanted to put the industry in the best opportunity to produce hemp in Wisconsin,” DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski told Schmidt and other reporters when the agency announced the decision.

But for the transition to really work, the state will need at least a few more certified samplers. The president of the Wisconsin Hemp Alliance, Rob Richard, told WPR’s Hope Kirwan the hemp industry will probably need a similar number of hemp samplers next year as the state employed in 2021. Kirwan reported that 2021’s 800 hemp growers were handled by one full-time and five seasonal employees. With nearly twice as many growers in 2020, about 1,500, the state had needed 14 seasonal employees.

One of Wisconsin’s two certified samplers, Jake Mohr, told Kirwan that after getting his certification in October he started to worry he might be the only certified sampling agent in the state. Now there’s at least one other, with a few months to go before the growing season starts in earnest.

The hemp alliance’s Richard isn't worried yet, said Kirwan.

"I've got to believe that people are going to step forward and find a way to do this because there is money to be made. It's a small-business opportunity for somebody out there who is interested in the hemp world," he said.

Sampling agents can be law enforcement officials, state or tribal employees, laboratory employees, state contractors, tribal contractors, or others, according to the USDA’s sampling agent information site.

Mohr told WPR he liked the job, saying ”I enjoyed meeting hemp producers around southwestern Wisconsin and kind of seeing the varied types of operations they have. It's a pretty plant as well.”

However, he expressed concern about details of the program.

"You're driving around with it in your car, bags of flowers that smell exactly like cannabis,” he told WPR. “So if you get pulled over, they don’t send you a badge or anything. […] you have an email that says, 'I'm certified to take hemp samples.’"

The hemp alliance’s Richard was less concerned, telling WPR the USDA is treating hemp like the agricultural commodity that it is.

"They are a federal agency,” he said. “Their size is huge and I just don't think they can get too into the minutiae of 'where can we regulate,' versus 'what is the minimum we need to do to ensure that the crop is being tested and is meeting the legal obligations and doing it in a safe way.’”

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