Welcome to Think Hempy Thoughts! Thanks for stopping by.
Welcome to Think Hempy Thoughts, a blog I originally started in 2013 as an informational hub that sorted hemp facts from fiction, which I was uncovering during research in Canada under a US Fulbright Scholarship. It’s come a long way since then and so have I. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that “Hempin ain’t easy,” but I’ve sure enjoyed the ride.
My name is Annie Rouse. I’m a Kentucky native, environmentalist, U.S. Fulbright Scholar, an entrepreneur, a hemp advocate, a world traveler, a Master in international environmental policy and business administration, an economist, an adventurer, a producer and an investigative journalist.
Since starting, the blog has evolved from general industry insights to including my entrepreneurial ventures coupled with my journey battling Lyme Disease and sustainability tidbits.
As this hemp industry grows the single most important takeaway beyond the fact that hempin’ ain’t easy is that hemp will only be as sustainable as we make it.
We have one opportunity to create a sustainable future for this industry and now is the time. Let’s not waste it.
So how do I fit in? Well here is my journey.
My dad films Woody Harrelson infamously planting 4 hemp seeds in an effort to distinguish hemp from marijuana. The footage is later used in the documentary “Hempsters: Plant the Seed.” My dad has forever been an inspiration for my hemp activism and his influence with this introduced me to learning about hemp.
While in college at the University of Kentucky an economics paper determines my fate. The subject I chose: “The economic impact of hemp in Kentucky.” As I write I learn about Kentucky’s rich history growing hemp and about a man named Harry Anslinger, who altered the course of history by regulating hemp as marijuana. My dad sparks an idea – that there is a “story” behind Harry Anslinger. The thought sticks with me for the next decade.
I graduate college and look for opportunities to get involved in changing hemp policy in Kentucky. I read a book called, “The Last Free Man in America” by Gatewood Galbraith, a lawyer, libertarian and Kentucky’s most successful independent Gubernatorial candidate. I track down his running mate, Dea Riley and we create the “Kentucky Hemp Initiative” with me leading the charge as the Executive Director.
I step down from the Kentucky Hemp Initiative with my eyes on graduate school. Before I start, I join International Student Volunteers for a trip to Costa Rica and Panama where I participate in my first conservation work as a volunteer protecting Leatherback Sea Turtles, reforesting mangroves and cleaning plastic pollution from beaches. After the trip, I move across the country to California where I start graduate school at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies studying for my masters in international environmental policy and business administration.
I introduce myself to teachers and colleagues with the drive to have helped legalize hemp in the next 5 years and move abroad to convince developing nations to sustainably grow with hemp as an economic engine. I’ll never forget the funny looks I got introducing myself on that first day of class. In November I attend my first Hemp Industries Association conference in San Francisco and when prompted to write a research proposal for a class assignment, learn about the Fulbright program.
I visit a friend in Australia, and while there, travel to Maleny to participate in a hemp building course with Steve Allin. Upon return, I start an internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium where I analyze the potential of the aquarium to become LEED certified. I also participate as a volunteer with The Offset Project where I help educate the community on proper waste management techniques.
I start seriously considering the Fulbright application, make contacts in Canada to study the crop and after drafting numerous versions of the applications, hit submit.
I join a team during my January term and travel to a small rural village in El Salvador where I conduct a feasibility study for eco-tourism. In March, I travel to Cuba for a class and on April 17th receive an email acceptance to participate as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Canada to study the environmental life cycle of hemp biomaterials as an automotive composite.
I finish my semester, take a leave of absence and pack my bags to move to the Great White North, but not before a cross-country trip to Petoskey, Michigan where I had already accepted a summer internship to monitor water quality.
I arrive in Canada in September and get to work learning about life cycle assessment and meeting with hemp farmers and processors to analyze crop production and fiber processing. I spend my free time traveling the country and enjoy hiking and skiing in Banff National Park. After a hike over Thanksgiving, I realize a bullseye rash on my arm but foolishly think it is eczema and ignore it.
I have trouble collecting the proper data needed to analyze hemp-based automotive components and have to switch my project to assessing the environmental life cycle of hempcrete as a building material. While there, President Obama signs the 2014 Farm Bill which legalized hemp production for research purposes.
While in Canada, I start to investigate Harry Anslinger once again. By the beginning of summer I pick up a remote job with Global Hemp Group as a content creator and in May I pack my bags again for a long road trip – from Calgary to Vancouver, from Vancouver to San Diego. I then hop aboard a plane and fly to visit a friend in Calca, Peru. We travel to Cuzco, climbing Machu Picchu, then to Iquitos, Peru to catch a 4-day boat ride up the Amazon River for a long-awaited trip to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. During my travels I start to recognize an increasing amount of loss of feeling in my hands as well arthritic pain in my right knee, but blame it on travel and an old soccer injury.
When I return to California, I am reunited with my car and take to the road again, driving the southern route across the country back to Kentucky. I spend my fall getting acquainted with Kentucky’s newly legal hemp industry. I interview Jake Graves, a 6th generation Kentucky hemp farmer who was 16 years old when government officials knocked on his parents’ door and commandeered their hemp seed for the USDA Hemp For Victory campaign. The story triggers emotion and a reason to dig further into the cannabis conspiracy. Then, for Christmas my brother, Will, gives me Harry Anslinger’s autobiography, called “The Murderers” which I scour over and over again.
2015 marks a life-changing year for me. I pack my bags and drive one more time back across the country to California for my last semester of graduate school, this time taking a different route as the two times prior. On the way I stop in Independence, Missouri to visit my first government archival library, the Harry Truman Museum and Library, where a portion of Harry Anslinger’s archives reside.
When I arrive back in Monterey, excited about the information I just uncovered, I take to paper and begins to write. The Pebble Beach Pro-Am, a golf tournament I volunteered to sort waste for back in 2013, is around the corner and Bill Murray, who notoriously listens to random movie pitches, is playing at the tournament. I grab some business cards and head to the links, locating him on the course. I watch the actor play and interact with the crowd and finally a break in the crowd opens, Bill spitballs something to me, and I throw back “Actually, I have a movie idea I think you’d be interested in. It’s about Harry Anslinger.” Bill recognizes the name and is intrigued. After a lot of back and forth, he says he’d look into it. I grew up on Bill Murray movies so his acknowledgement to consider my work became a HUGE inspiration and motivation to keep digging.
Meanwhile, my last semester of school is my capstone project where a team and I assess the potential for a Chinese electric vehicle to enter US markets. My project mentor pushes an idea into my head to compete in a business plan pitch competition for the grand prize of $1000. And so I begin to formulate a business strategy I later call my “Hempire.”
After months of preparation I deliver the pitch with perfection, not missing a beat and answering questions of the conservative judges flawlessly. The other entrepreneurs compliment me on the pitch. I think the winnings are in the bag, but much to my dismay the judges select a company with an idea that keeps gophers out of golf courses – an unproven, water wasting method I recall seeing Bill Murray’s character attempt in Caddy Shack.
Disappointed, I ask the judges what I had done wrong. Their answer, “your idea was too big.” My opinion, “my idea was too premature.” Either way, the experience provides an excellent framework for future pitch competitions.
Before graduating, I start looking for potential jobs and receive advice from a mentor to “not put myself in a box.” Somewhat worn out of hammering through hemp’s hurdles, I listen to the mentor’s advice and start applying for jobs outside the hemp space with a goal of some day becoming a Chief Sustainability Officer at a Fortune 500 company. I move back to Kentucky as I search, and en route to an interview with Google, decide I should make a pit-stop in Indiana for Purdue’s Hemp Field Day.
As I tour the fields and meet with people from all walks of life, I realize I couldn’t leave the industry. I knew more about the plant than everyone at the event, except Dr. Paul Mahlberg, who had been studying the plant with a DEA permit since 1970. I realize the industry needs me, and I need the industry. If I didn’t stick with it now, I would likely regret it for the rest of my life. Now the only question remaining is what will I do?
I know I want to start something, but exactly what is unknown. I toy with ideas and talk with new businesses that are migrating to my state. I know the constraints in the industry – standardization, marketing and the need to educate to increase the demand side.
Ultimately, I like the idea of my “Hempire,” but the plan needed tweaking and I wanted to keep sustainability in mind. I recall thinking there are only so many times that an industry can start out on a conscious foot and hemp is that opportunity. I decide I could start an online market where the products are verified based on their environmental footprint, providing consumers with a market for the conscious consumer. I start researching.
Simultaneously, throughout the year, I start to notice other odd symptoms starting to arise – light sensitivity, sudden allergies, dehydration, and fatigue – all of which I blame on other incidences, but the one I can’t blame on anything is a sudden misspelling of words I always knew. I start to investigate and find all my symptoms, alongside a bulls-eye rash under Lyme Disease, a rare but possible encounter in Banff National Park.
I call on various doctors to confirm my suspicion, a tasking process for a disease which few doctors know anything about. A week later, after blood test confirmation and a high dosage prescription of antibiotics, I decide to shake it off and get outdoors. So my boyfriend and I walk to the park to play basketball. As I drive the lane impersonating the style of a Kentucky basketball star, I come down on my ankle wrong, chipping my tibia and suffering a high ankle sprain.
Essentially bed-ridden for weeks, I don’t have many options, so for the next six weeks I turn my Anslinger research and written storyline concept into the first season of a television series.
During this time, I also take time to think about other immediate needs of the hemp industry. I know expanding education to build markets is a top priority and am convinced creating a non-profit would be a good first step.
At the first of the year, I founded Kentucky Hemp Research Foundation, which has since rebranded to Friends of Hemp. Our first event is an Organic Seminar for farmers interested in growing organic hemp. With a donation from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, we invite speakers experienced in organic hemp markets and the event has a sold out audience.
After the event, I fly out to California to meet with a medical plastics manufacturer to assess the feasibility of hemp plastics entering the supply chain. Afterwards I drive down to my old town, Monterey, to try to catch Bill Murray at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am once again. I manage to track him down and get advice to pitch my script to a producer he would introduce me to. The producer’s advice is to write a pilot episode.
After California, I visit another doctor about my Lyme Disease, but since many doctors don’t know about or believe in treatments, I am met with unhelpful advice, except that it is an inflammatory disease. Fortunately, I know CBD oil has anti-inflammatory properties so I ask a friend for some samples. Two weeks after taking it, I start feeling better – mostly more energetic and more mobile. I am still skeptical it is the CBD oil, so I begin to do trials on myself, taking CBD oil some months, and not taking it others, while trying different brands in the process and monitoring my progress.
Then one month, a brand I try does not have the same magic as the brands prior. I start asking around and realize the quality control issues CBD oil faces – with no regulatory agency monitoring the products, manufacturers can get away with mislabeling and misbranding, leading some brands to falsely claim the CBD concentration. I know this is a bad problem that could destroy the industry’s legitimacy. I can’t stop it, but I can help prevent people from experiencing the same problem I experienced. So I start to turn the concept of monitoring the environmental impact of a product, to monitoring the quality of a product, with CBD oil at the heart of it.
As I start to pivot the concept, I pick up another job at Kentucky Education Television (KET), a local PBS station, where I work as an associate producer in the public affairs department, with a task of producing a podcast from released episodes. I’m also assigned to help produce Journey to Recovery, a documentary about Kentucky’s opioid crisis, – a familiar topic to from my research experience and unfortunate family tragedies. The experience later provides me with tools I need to launch my own podcast.
In August, I organize the first ever Local Hemp Foods Cook-Off, convincing local chefs to cook creative dishes using hemp and has a community-wide tasting. The goal is to normalize hemp in the eyes of the public. The idea stemmed from the fact that in the 1920s caffeine was normalized as an ingredient, and no longer a drug, once it was more commonly found in soda fountains.
Later in the year, I participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week in Lexington where each week is devoted to learning from different local entrepreneurs while refining my business plan. At the end of the week, I enter into a business plan pitch competition, where I pitch my company idea. As I prepare, I recalls my “Hempire” pitch from graduate school and using a similar strategy, pitch with perfection. And this time, winning the grand prize of $1,000.
I spend the early part of my year organizing farmer seminars for my non-profit. I also work on some consulting projects and conduct my first official on-site audit to analyze the production of a CBD oil processor and manufacturer and a hemp food processor.
I start selling the two brands, alongside sustainably sourced hemp t-shirts with my hand-drawn Think Hempy Thoughts graphic, online and at local markets. I also work with two local breweries, Rock House Brewing and Mirror Twin Brewing to bring Kentucky their first Kentucky-grown hemp beers.
By February I pitch my pilot “Anslinger” episode to my producer contact and learn that I really need to protect my work. In April, I launch a kickstarter campaign for my non-profit which initiates the rebranding process from Kentucky Hemp Research Foundation to Friends of Hemp. I also hire two summer interns to help at local markets.
Later my friend, Lisa, comes across a video contest to win tickets to our favorite music festival, Electric Forest. The contest asks the participants to provide ideas for improving “the Forest.” Lisa and I strategize, submitting a killer video with ideas to refuse straws while adding extra sustainability signage and sustainability forums. The music festival implements all our ideas but we did not win the competition. However, instead the Electric Forest Sustainability Program Manager calls me and hires me on the spot to help manage the team in their biggest year yet.
In June I work with NoLi CDC to organize a hempcrete building course that is responsible for building the first Kentucky-grown hempcrete house in the state. Then I travel to Michigan to participate in Electric Forest’s Electricology Sustainability Program. While at the Festival, I help collect and manage donations for their incentive program.
One day, in my time off, I visit the “Trading Post,” where I receive my first tarot reading. To my surprise, my future outlook is “you need to tell your story now, before someone else does.” I know exactly what that means, I need to publish my Harry Anslinger story in some form or another – a video production or book will take too long, but I have the experience and equipment to produce a podcast. So I get to work.
By August I analyze and verify the quality of the second CBD oil brand as I continue to participate in entrepreneurship and business development programs and start thinking of new brand names for my online CBD oil/hemp market. I host Friends of Hemp’s 2nd Local Hemp Foods Cook-Off, this time partnering with Crave Food and Music Festival, increasing the consumer reach 2000%. As the summer comes to a close I apply and am accepted to the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship, a 4-month bootcamp for small businesses.
I also attend the Hemp Industries Association Conference in Kentucky where I meet my future business partner, Jason. Then, I hop into a car for an east coast trip – first DC for lobbying and archival research, then Baltimore for Natural Products Expo East, then Pennsylvania to Penn State University for a 4-day dig into the bulk of Harry Anslinger’s archives.
While digging through the DC archives, I coincidentally meet a man named Matt Pembleton, a drug policy professor at American University and author of the soon-to-be-published book, Containing Addiction. We nerd out over Anslinger and narcotic policy and exchange contact information. Later, Matt provides an integral interview for my podcast and his book provides valuable insight into Anslinger’s life.
By the end of the year I start conducting initial interviews for my podcast and complete the bootcamp, winning first place in the pitch competition for a grand prize of $1,000. In this process I find the most effective part of the program for me is the course on minimum viable product. This lecture allows me to strip my audit and application process to the bare bones, keeping the meat and deleting the unnecessary questions. Also, after about six months of consideration, I finally land on a new name for my online market. I call it Anavii Market, stemming from the combination of two words “alternative” and “vivo,” which I attribute to a graduate school friend, Margaret.
In addition, I organize a Hemp Holiday Market for local Kentucky hemp manufacturers and organize Friends of Hemp to participate in the Bluegrass Community Foundation’s Good Giving Challenge. Before the year comes to an end, I also decide it would be in my best interest to start my own CBD oil brand, so my boyfriend and I start investigating branding, supply chain options and distribution channels.
By 2018, everything I am building towards finally starts to come into fruition. As January comes to a close I prepare for three big launches –
- Anavii Market – my new CBD oil online market that retails premium verified CBD oil brands.
- Anslinger: The untold cannabis conspiracy – my TV series script fine-tuned into a podcast, and
- Nature’s Hemp Oil – my new CBD oil brand (now branded as Overcome).
As I prepare these launches, I notify friends and family and host a Cannabis Trivia Night at my favorite local Lexington Brewery. Not long after the release, I fly to DC to dig through more archives, only this time, at the Library of Medicine. While there, I stay with a friend who invites other colleagues, including Jason, over one evening for libations and music. That evening Jason compliments me on my launch of Anavii Market and shares his desire to also open a hemp marketplace. I remember this and over the next month, after serious consideration, decide I should ask Jason if he would like to partner on the Anavii Market venture.
Jason agrees to join me and in April and we travel to the NoCo Hemp Expo where we make the formal announcement. Prior to Jason joining Anavii Market, I had applied to the Awesome Inc Fellowship and while the program was hesitant at first given the nature of the business, timing played a huge role with my announcement to bring Jason on as co-founder and simultaneously Senator McConnell announcing that he would be introducing the Hemp Farming Act.
In early May, Awesome Inc awards the Fellowship to Anavii Market. Shortly after, Jason and I pitch to the Bluegrass Angels Launch Grant Fund and are also awarded a small business grant. As the year progresses, I also continue to improve hemp education for farmers though hosted events and fundraise for the non-profit by launching the first ever Hemp Tap Takeover.
2019 was a whirlwind. I work with the Hemp Feed Coalition to set up a non-profit incubator within Friends of Hemp to get the Hemp Feed Coalition on its feet. In the process I learn far too much about the massive challenges ahead as it relates to opening markets for hemp as an animal feed (so ridiculous given animals have eaten hemp for longer than they haven’t eaten hemp, and we all have turned out fine).
Commercially, the industry moves so fast it is hard to focus and stay the course. People are entering the industry at lightening speed. Anavii’s inbox is filled with CBD companies wanting to be vetted. There must be 3000 brands on the market – amazingly horrible given the amount of misinformation, lack of education and general greed that is occurring. People diving thinking it will be a “get-rich-quick” business.
I try to ignore most of the noise but it’s tough to not consistently be looking over your soldier at what some company or government might do next. Regardless of the chaos, I meet new people, form new bonds and make key partnerships that continue to grow throughout the year, including my future business partners Keith Butler and Jim Kane. By October Keith, Jim and I launch OP Innovates, a hemp formulations company dedicated to delivering the world’s most effective cannabinoids using our unique delivery system that improves absorption in the body. We coin this system as Nature’s Delivery System.™ We form key relationships throughout a 100 mile radius in Kentucky and start digging into creating the most sustainable supply chain hemp can offer. 🙂
In the midst of building our supply chain for cannabinoids, I research and work on reformulating Nature’s Hemp Oil products to products that can help me overcome Lyme Disease. I know I won’t ever be cured, but finding a couple products that help me manage the every day symptomatic battles remains a priority. In the reformulation process, while playing with my newborn nephew I explain to my sister that I’m trying to rebrand Nature’s Hemp Oil but am struggling to find a name. We discuss my challenges dealing Lyme Disease and I explain to her that every day is a new challenge and I have to find the courage and persistence to overcome every day. It was an aha moment. And so the rebranding of Nature’s Hemp Oil (for humans) started to begin with the brand morphing into Overcome with Every Day and Every Night formulations. We keep Nature’s Hemp Oil for pets branded as is.
Both being able to work remotely, my boyfriend and I hit the road at the turn of the decade to start our nomadic journey around the United States. For the next two years we intend to stay in different cities for short periods of time (3-4 months) to determine where we might want to settle. First stop, Scottsdale, AZ. Then came COVID…
While the world was busy with COVID, we were busy building our future. We launch the rebrand of Nature’s Hemp Oil (for humans) as Overcome starting with our Every Night formula using Nature’s Delivery System. We also launch the brand Hemp Mellow – a fun side hustle of OP Innovates that showcased the delivery system while formulating for the highest legal limits of ∆-9-THC per capsule with 1.65mg of ∆-9-THC at no more than 0.3%. This shit works! It really does make life a breeze. Relaxation! A perfect solution to get you through COVID.
By 2021 OP Innovates is ready to take on the world. We rebrand Nature’s Delivery System as NaturiaPlus (Naturia+), the intel inside of the cannabis and hemp industry. You want a product that works. Look for a Naturia+ logo on your capsules.
The journey has been long to this point. I’d say I’m done creating companies for now and am just focusing on growing the ones I have, but I would probably prove myself wrong. To be continued…
Hempin’ ain’t easy, but it’s been a great ride so far. Ultimately, following my passions has led me to meet new people who have pushed my motivations and encouraged me to persist. I encourage you to find your passion and dive in.
Be persistent. Be creative. Be patient. And always remember to Think Consciously. Think Hempy Thoughts.