On Monday, May 23, 2016, a Judge William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin dismissed a lawsuit by the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin seeking declaratory relief that the Tribe was permitted to legally grow industrial hemp under the Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014.  

The Section 7606 of Agricultural Act of 201, titled, “The Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”, provides in relevant part:

Notwithstanding the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (20 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.), chapter 81 of title 41, United States Code, or any other Federal law, an institution of higher education (as defined in section 101 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001)) or a State department of agriculture may grow or cultivate industrial hemp if--

(1) the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research; and

(2) the growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.

In the lawsuit filed by the Menominee in 2015, the Tribe contended that it was a “State” itself as required by the industrial hemp exemption, and because the State of Wisconsin’s laws prohibiting growth of industrial hemp did not apply to the Tribe, that they fell underneath the Industrial Hemp exception of the Agricultural Act of 2014.

Unfortunately, the Court found that the definition of “State” in the industrial hemp exemption did not include Tribes; and thus the Menominee cannot legally grow industrial hemp on their reservation (despite citing several other cases finding that various federal statutes’ definition of “State” included Tribes).  

This ruling may have a chilling effect on the potential Tribal hemp projects located within states that have yet to legalize industrial hemp. However, it remains to be seen whether the Menominee Tribe will appeal the ruling. 

Read the full opinion here