Trials and Tribulations of Working in the Regulated Hemp Industry and What is to Come
Five years ago packed my bags and moved to Canada on a Fulbright Scholarship to study the environmental life cycle of Canada’s hemp industry – the first Fulbright Scholar to study hemp and the first to study a federally controlled Schedule I Narcotic.
After completing the research, I moved home to find a job. I had decided I was sick of hemp and didn’t want to put myself in a box, so I started interviewing in other industries. During the summer, I found myself interviewing for a job at Google and on the way to the interview decided to swing by Indiana’s Hemp Field Day at Purdue University. As I watched people navigate the fields and listened to questions they asked, I realized I couldn’t stop now. I was an expert and the fun was just about to begin… So am I glad I stayed?
One non-profit and two companies later, I’m writing this after finishing up a two week journey speaking at the Hemp Industries Association Conference and attending Supply Side West and the American Herbal Products Association Botanical Congress where all forms of cannabis were topics of disruption. Next week I’ll pack my bags again for a 2-week trip from coast to coast and Hawaii speaking at the US Hemp Expo and Hawaii Hemp Expo.
Old Hemp Meets New Hemp
For the first three years working, the industry seemed full of familiar faces. Now, new people are entering in droves. Today at events, I find old faces and new faces. Fun faces and grim faces. The optimists that think hemp will save the world, the pessimists that think it’s just the next fad, and the realists scattered somewhere in between.
Whoever it is, we’re in this together. Some of us since the beginning of founding the first industry association, and some of us since what seems like the very beginning of deregulation – just 4 short years ago, although from the supply chain that has built from nothing, you’d think it was 15 years ago.
But what you might not see, is that if we’ve learned anything it’s that hempin’ ain’t been easy but it has brought unlikely people together.
Hemp is not like most industries.
Over twenty-five years ago the plant’s first industry association formed creating organization among the voices. Since forming, the organization has twice to sued the Department of Justice rights to import and sell its finished health products.
Prior to 2014, in part due to its regulation as a drug and in part due to the greatest marketing scheme of all time, Reefer Madness, the plant had been tainted with a bad reputation and over regulated to the highest degree possible under federal law.
It’d be like saying possession of corn were a federal offense.
With a tainted reputation there was a lot of work to do, and still will be a lot to overcome.
What the 2014 Farm Bill Meant for Hemp
The 2014 Farm Bill lifted regulations for production at pilot scales, but, even though a federal law, the DEA still flexed their muscles with overreach.
This flex shattered dreams of normal procedures for banking, capital investments, loans, insurance, merchant processing, federal research dollars and most advertising methods.
It’s already a challenge to start a business, so imagine doing that in an abnormal, unknown grey market.
But the extra hurdles gave some companies wings – A way to build a new economy and a new culture – and ideally one that brings health and wealth back to our nation.
It also created an unlikely new competitor culture where deep friendships were made between companies, because when you are fighting for freedom, working together is the only way to win.
As 2018 comes to a close, the 4-year long research experiment has proved itself worthy.
Now we’ve found ourselves beholden to an unlikely hemp hero, Conservative Republican and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while we wait for a deadlocked Congress to finalize a 700 page document relating to the next four years of budgetary items for agriculture.
What Does the 2018 Farm Bill Do for Hemp?
When the 2018 Farm Bill is signed, the bill will legalize hemp officially. That means a flood of investment will enter the space. Banking should open, ideally at normal merchant processing rates and not ones as a high as 9% plus hidden fees. Insurance costs should reduce as hemp will not be seen as risky. Marketing restrictions should loosen. Loans can be made more easily, capital investments can be expanded, but perhaps most importantly, federal research dollars will be granted to universities to take hemp to the next level – making it a commodity crop.
Research, standardization and marketing will be the next big plays in the upcoming five years.
But most of all, the day this 2018 Farm Bill passes will be a day the world can celebrate. It’s been a fight for freedom and whatever day this occurs, hemp will finally be out of the jurisdiction of US Department of Justice and into the hands of the US Department of Agriculture. A regulatory change that has taken nearly 50 years to occur.
Champagne anyone? Find me the day the bill is signed 😉