Wednesday, June 29, 2016

No hippie highs, illegal pot parties? Big marijuana industry, taxes ahead

By Debbie Sklar

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Forget the hippie highs of secret pot parties and the War on Drugs: The big marijuana industry could be coming to California, complete with taxes, regulation and advertising.
Even some old criminal convictions for marijuana violations could be tossed out after an initiative that would legalize marijuana and hemp and impose taxes on those previously forbidden products qualified for the Nov. 8 state ballot.
If California voters approve the “Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products would be established in state government. The new law would also prohibit marketing and advertising marijuana to minors.
The initiative authorizes resentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions.
The measure, sure to be the center of a hard-fought campaign, would impose a state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15 percent of the sales price and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.
It’s not clear how the pot measure will affect turnout in the November presidential election.
The initiative allows for local regulation and taxation of marijuana and exempts medical marijuana from some taxation.
Passage of the initiative would result in net reduced costs ranging from tens of millions of dollars to potentially exceeding $100 million annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.
The analysis also found passage would result in net additional state and local tax revenues potentially ranging from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually related to the production and sale of marijuana. Most of these funds would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.
Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its products. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food and animal feed.
The initiative required valid signatures from 365,880 registered voters – – 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election — to qualify for the ballot, Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday when announcing the measure had qualified for the ballot.

Henry VIII's Reign Was A Golden Age For Hemp

By James McClure

Henry The VIII Hemp

Cannabis historians are familiar with America's World War II era slogan, "Hemp for Victory", which encouraged farmers to help the war effort by sowing crops of hemp - marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin. But that campaign was actually a throwback to the reign of England's King Henry VIII, who was born 525 years ago today.
In 1533, the Tudor king made hemp cultivation the law of the land. For every 60 acres, farmers had to set aside one rood (about 1/4 acre) for flax or hemp. Otherwise, they'd face a fine of three shillings and four pence - about half a year's wage for a household servant - for breaking the law.
That's right: there was once a time in history when you would get punished for not growing hemp. We hope actor Woody Harrelson brought that up when he was put on trial for planting the illegal seed in 1996.
But back to Henry VIII's time. He mandated hemp cultivation in order to make more rope, sails, nets and other naval equipment. At the time, England was a black sheep among European countries because of the Reformation - England's split from the Catholic Church (the Brexit of the day). To prevent another European kingdom from forcing England back into the fold, Henry mustered one of the world's first professional navies.
The threat of invasion slowly became a reality under the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I, who faced war with Spain - the global superpower of the 16th century. So the Virgin Queen ordered farmers to grow even more hemp and and made the penalties for breaking that law stiffer than a starched ruff - the upscale bibs of Renaissance Europe.
Diego Velázquez - Philip III on
Henry's and Elizabeth's preparations paid off in 1588, when England's hemp-outfitted ships thrashed the Spanish Armada. So in an alternate history, Spanish might be the official language throughout North America if it weren't for the cannabis plant.

Part 3: A History of Cannabis and Prohibition



It’s funny how when you tell someone they can’t do something, they almost always want to do it that much more. That reaction, that instinct within so many of us, is the reason that prohibition has failed so miserably. Alcohol prohibition lasted less than 15 years – yet here we are, decades into marijuana prohibition and people are still growing it in their basements and selling it on the black market.  
If regulation was the safe and smart approach for alcohol, why is it not the same for marijuana? It’s a question that many of us have asked at one point or another – but unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that. Prohibition of cannabis has a much longer history and many different factors play into where we stand today. At one point, cannabis (generally in the form of edibles or hashish) was something used by the more affluent – but that all changed in a couple of decades.
At this point, in part 1 and part 2 of this history series, we’ve taken a look at cannabis’ journey around the globe and the role of cannabis in early American culture. Now it’s time to explore the Reefer Madness Era, when cannabis went from an accepted medicine to a substance that could cause men to lose their sanity in the eyes of the American people.
A quick mention, as with my previous articles – I will have sources linked throughout this article, but a lot of the information was obtained from the book Smoke Signals, by Martin A. Lee.
It started with the Mexican Revolution
During colonial times, hemp plants were planted from Chile to Alta California; these plants were eventually abandoned. Rather than dying off, the plants adapted, becoming hermaphroditic, allowing them to pollinate and continue to thrive. Eventually, these plants growing wild with the sun shining down became the potent THC producing plants we know today as marijuana.
It was because it was so plentiful and the high you got left you without a hangover, unlike alcohol, that it became such a popular intoxicant among the poorer class of Mexico. While the lower class would say that they smoked marijuana as a way to cope with the everyday hardships of living, the more affluent of the country would instead blame the plant for their situation. This was a trend that did not change years later when Mexican refugees crossed the border to America – but we’re getting to that.
Along with the lower class, the Mexican military also commonly used marijuana for the same reasons. During the revolution (1910-20), Pancho Villa’s guerrilla army, which was made up of mostly lower-class Mexicans and Indians, would smoke marijuana during their long marches from place to place – or after a successful campaign. It was this group that came up with the ever popular song “La Cucaracha” – which you’ve probably heard at least once in your life. The chorus of the song is about a soldier who cannot manage because he doesn’t have any marijuana to smoke. (A side note – this song is where the slang term “roach” came from, referring to the butt of a joint.)
At this point, the revolution was in full swing and American troops were stationed at the borders. Not surprisingly, it was during this time that many American soldiers tried smoking marijuana for the first time. The refugees who came to America brought with them, like so many before, their language, culture and customs – one of which was smoking marijuana (or mota).  
The First Attempts at Regulation in the States
Shortly before the Mexican Revolution got started, the United States Federal Government had decided to take their first crack at regulation of marijuana and other controlled substances. The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed by Congress in 1906 and was a landmark piece of legislation that created a list of intoxicating ingredients that were required to be mentioned on the label of the products they were in. The list included cannabis, alcohol, opiates, cocaine and chloral hydrate.
In essence, when this law passed, the government put themselves in charge of all drugs and medications for the very first time. It was this same law that prohibited the importation of cannabis – at least, for any reason other than medical purposes. Prior to the Pure Food and Drug Act, there had been no restriction whatsoever on intoxicating substances. At this point in history there was still cocaine in Coca-Cola and you could purchase heroin at Sears – everything was legal.
Less than 10 years later, the federal government introduced The Harrison Act of 1914, which gave them control over all narcotics. This was the first law that made it illegal for non-medical consumers to possess opiates and cocaine. For the first time, the United States government was putting a clear line between medicinal use and recreational use of drugs – luckily for cannabis, it managed to stay out of The Harrison Act as it was not widely used (except among minorities).
However, just because the federal government wasn’t seeing a problem, did not mean that individual states were not taking measures of their own. In 1913, California outlawed marijuana as a way to harass the Mexican population who had immigrated due to the revolution. This was a tactic that had been used around forty years prior in San Francisco as a way to try and control the Chinese population. A year later in 1914 El Paso, Texas passed the first city ordinance that banned the sale and possession of cannabis.
In 1920, cannabis manages to escape the Eighteenth Amendment, which outlawed alcohol and started the nearly 14 years of alcohol prohibition. During this time, practically everyone became an outlaw, either making alcohol illegally, running a speakeasy or visiting one to drink nightly – it was also during this period that the cheaper and still legal intoxicant marijuana started to gain popularity, especially among jazz musicians. Alcohol prohibition was repealed only three years before the propaganda film that would change the course of marijuana in the United States for many years to come.
Almost a decade after the introduction of alcohol prohibition, Congress passed another law in 1929 called the Narcotic Farm Act. The NFA wrongly classified “Indian hemp” as a “habit-forming narcotic” and also authorized two hospitals in the federal prison system to treat drug addicts. This contributed to the supposed difference between the “well-off and hardworking” and the “lazy marijuana-smokers”.
From Common Medicine to Schedule I Controlled Substance
Around late 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed and alcohol prohibition was a thing of the past – the government had finally admitted that they were not going to be able to outlaw alcohol entirely, so it was better to try and regulate it instead. It was around this same time, however, that the negative reputation surrounding marijuana use started to grow – and it grew rapidly due to the over-exaggerated horrors that were being spread around the country.
It was during this timeframe that things took the biggest downturn – during public hearings people would make claims that those who used marijuana became extremely violent and that its use made minorities seek sexual encounters with white women. In 1936, the famous propaganda film Reefer Madness was released, instilling fear in those who had no idea that marijuana was the same as the cannabis tincture in their medicine cabinets.
The Reefer Madness film depicted what could happen when high school students are pushed to try their first marijuana cigarettes. It opens with claims that all events are fictional, but based on real events (though what they describe sounds more like a hardcore hallucinogen than the effects of marijuana) and continues to show people smoking “marijuana cigarettes” who start laughing uncontrollably before committing acts of violence including rape and murder, as well as hallucinations and suicide – laying the claim that this is what will happen if your child smokes reefer.
Just a year after this film was introduced to the public, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed by Congress. The Act created a tax that was equivalent to around one dollar to anyone who dealt commercially with cannabis, hemp or marijuana. While the law did not directly outlaw cannabis, it did enforce a penalty and provisions for those who were found in possession of the plant – violation of the provisions or failure to pay the tax could result in a $2,000 fine and five years’ imprisonment.
Clearly this law was meant to discourage the use and sale of cannabis without having to criminalize it directly. Unfortunately, by taxing every form of the plant, physicians ended up being forced to pay the tax as well – which created a problem for the medical industry. The American Medical Association suggested that perhaps cannabis should be scheduled under The Harrison Act instead – but that suggestion was overlooked and the Marihuana Tax Act was passed regardless of the AMAs protest.
The Marihuana Tax Act remained in place for many years – until years passed and hemp and medical cannabis became used less and less. They had implemented tax stamps for the cultivation of these products, however, it was determined in 1967 by President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration that the Act had become inefficient as it made little revenue and very few were registered.
Two years later, a Supreme Court case ruled that the Act was unconstitutional and went against the 5th amendment because in order to purchase a tax stamp, one would have to incriminate oneself of marijuana possession. Just one year after that, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was repealed and very quickly was replaced by the Controlled Substances Act, which was introduced the same year (1969) by President Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchell, and was enacted as law in 1970.
Originally, cannabis’ place as a Schedule I controlled substance was supposed to be a temporary place holder while Nixon issued a report to give the plant a proper classification. However, the findings of The Schafer Commission was that marijuana should not be Schedule I – they actually doubted whether or not it should be a part of the Controlled Substances Act at all!
Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can guess, Nixon ignored their report and left cannabis in the CSA under the classification for the most dangerous and addictive of drugs. All these years and cannabis wasn’t even supposed to stay at Schedule I in the first place – and the findings of The Schafer Commission prove that even in the 60s we knew cannabis wasn’t as dangerous as the 1930s propaganda would have us think.
It took 25 years after the Controlled Substances Act was introduced before California voted to legalize the use of medical marijuana. It took another 16 years after that before Colorado and Washington were able to vote on the legalization of recreational marijuana. It’s been 46 years since the CSA was put into place – and nearly 80 years since the introduction of the Marihuana Tax Act and the release of Reefer Madness – and we’re still only part of the way there when it comes to reversing the damage that was caused so quickly.
Once one of the most commonly used medicines around, with a centuries old reputation, was made to look demonic to outsiders in less than twenty years. It’s amazing how quickly damage can take hold and just how long you can spend trying to repair it.
Things are finally gaining momentum in recent years and it’s definitely not poised to stop anytime soon. It’s time to dispel the lies that Reefer Madness started and the ones that have evolved since then – in the end, the truth will prevail.

Seeds of history: Laub plants industrial hemp in pilot program


Clarence Laub jr and the III
Clarence Laub, Jr., left, and his son, Clarence Laub III made history at their farm this spring by being one of the first farms in the state to plant industrial hemp south of Elgin, N.D., under the Department of Agriculture license.

ELGIN, N.D. – Out in a field that can be viewed from the windows of a farmhouse in southwestern North Dakota, Clarence Laub III, finished seeding his industrial hemp crop on June 1.
Laub III had already planted the other crops on the family farm, planting their sunflowers the week before.
“We were able to get some early seeding done in early April because of the weather. The corn and the wheat are all up. The sunflowers are just emerging today,” Laub III said.
His industrial hemp crop is also coming up, but the emergence has been slow and spotty.
“We haven’t had a significant rain fall since the last week in May, and that could be part of the poor emergence,” he said. “I talked with another producer that was having the same slow emergence so I feel a little better about the situation now.”
So what was it like to plant industrial hemp and make North Dakota history? Was it somehow mysterious or different or something that the ordinary farmer would never attempt?
“It is an exciting experience, but it is a always a little flustering when trying a new crop for the first time,” he said. “However, being able to plant a new crop on a small scale makes it less stressful.”
Laub III noted he didn’t have a lot of time to think about how he was making history because the seed arrived from Canada late, and he had to hurry and seed it.
“I was too busy thinking of all the drill settings, making sure the depth was right. There’s not a whole lot of time to soak the whole process in,” he said.
Laub III is one of four farmers selected by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp under its first-ever pilot program. The others are David H. Lommen of Maddock, N.D.; and Jamie Edwards and Lyle Edwards of Adrian, N.D.
Out in the field June 1, surrounded by fencing, his father Clarence Laub Jr., drove his John Deere tractor connected to his Concorde air drill with a Dutch opener and anhydrous ammonia tank – putting in row after row of industrial hemp seed.
The air drill had two compartments, one with seed and the other with starter fertilizer, 9-42-9-4.
He planted his seed into sandy-loam soil, at a rate of 30 and 35 pounds per acre, with the seed being placed into the furrow at two depths. Seed was placed in furrow at a depth of one-half to three-fourths of an inch, fairly shallow, while other seed was placed at a depth of one-and-a-quarter inch.
“This was a totally new process for our drill but it went smoothly,” Laub, Jr., said. “Getting the depth right was the biggest problem I had.”
Laub, Jr., planted one variety; then seeded the other. When he was finished, he measured off the field and marked the center.
At the NDSU Langdon Research Extension Center’s hemp plots last summer, there was a high seed mortality rate, and it was recommended that the soils be warm before planting.
Farming background
Before returning to farm full-time, Laub III attended Bismarck State College, gaining a degree in agronomy and worked in Elgin as a sales agronomist for Wilbur Ellis, so he knows his seed. He also interned with New Horizons Ag during summers at college. As an intern, he worked closely with producers as a crop consultant, scouting their fields and helping them plan which herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to use.
While he has all that information on board, he won’t be able to use any chemicals on his industrial hemp fields. Not because he is going organic, but because there are no herbicides or other chemicals labeled for use in North Dakota.
That could make the crop a bit weedy, but he is hoping as it grows, the green canopy will crowd out the weeds. In addition, the field where the industrial hemp is planted, had a solid burndown following harvest last fall.
“It’s a pretty clean field, but any weeds that might pop up should be crowded out as hemp grows,” Laub III said.
In fact, at LREC, most of the varieties grown last summer grew a couple of inches a day, so did provide heavy canopy.
Laub III has researched extensively the best ways of planting, growing and harvesting industrial hemp. Canada has conducted considerable research into industrial hemp, and North Dakota farmers growing hemp now have some good information available to help them.
“I talked with a fellow farmer who is growing industrial hemp in Colorado, and he helped me with choosing one of the varieties I am growing this summer,” said Laub III, noting he eventually settled on the Canadian varieties, CFX-1 and CRS-1. “These varieties both have strengths and I think they are the right varieties for our farm and for what I intend to market them for.”
The four producers in the pilot program are allowed to market the hemp anyway they like.
CFX-1 is a dual-purpose variety, that can be used for both fiber and grain, and CRS-1 is a grain variety, that is often crushed and used for oil. He plans to purchase a cold oil extractor to extract the oil from the industrial hemp, bringing it right to the farm field, instead of hauling it a long distance.
Last year, harvest at LREC, CFX-1 yielded 4,648 pounds per acre of fiber and 1,363 pounds per acre of grain. CRS-1 yielded 1,062 pounds per acre of grain.
Laub III plans to harvest his grain with his twin-rotor New Holland with a draper head. While some industrial hemp fiber varieties are very tall, he chose two of the shorter varieties, so the plants would be easier to harvest.
Laub III farms with his parents, Clarence Laub Jr., and Sandra. Laub Jr., bought the family farm in 1977.
Laub III said his mom was the one who encouraged him to grow industrial hemp back in 2008, when the first two North Dakota farmers were issued licenses to grow it at the state level.
A year ago, he was talking with Rachel Seifert-Spilde at the North Dakota Department of Ag, and she mentioned the pilot program to him. The Farm Bill had passed an industrial hemp law, and states like Colorado and Kentucky were already at the stage of having their farmers grow hemp on their own farms under the license of the particular state.
Laub III began researching how he would grow, harvest and market it.
“I was very excited and wanted to make the application perfect,” he said.
Obviously, the application was sufficient and the Department announced that Laub III would be one of the first four farmers in the pilot program.
“I knew I had a good application, but you never know,” he said.
A unique farm
The farm is unique, having the look of the very new, blended with the old.
The farmhouse, which towers over all the other buildings, and the new red barn next to it are fairly new, built in 2011.
“Sandra always wanted a large house, but she didn’t expect to have it the way it happened. We had a tornado in 2011 that destroyed a lot of the farm buildings, and I told her, ‘the new house is yours – do it how you want,’” said Laub Jr.
The tornado came out of nowhere, right after they had finished seeding their acres. Everyone was in the house at the time.
“It happened so fast. We heard the tornado – it sounded like a roaring train and we headed downstairs. At the same time, the barn blew into the side of the house,” Laub Jr., said.
Because they had just planted, the new seeds hadn’t come out of the ground yet, Laub III added. They had a good crop that year – but after the tornado, it was an expensive crop.
That is part of the reason Laub III wanted to grow industrial hemp. Out in southwestern North Dakota, moisture can be limited, so he was interested in an alternative crop that would be a good rotational crop for farmers, one that would help break up weed and disease cycles, provide another choice for farmers in the region, and improve the economic bottomline.
Laub III points to all the hemp related products North Dakotans can buy at stores, including insulation, warm clothing that is long-lasting, or even a hemp concrete called hempcrete, that is known to be very strong.
“We import all these hemp products in and finally, we can start to supply those products ourselves,” he added. “Industrial hemp should be a great rotational crop and we need that in southwestern North Dakota.”
He is definitely looking forward to watching his industrial hemp seeds grow and then, eventually, harvesting the crop before marketing his new crop – one he hopes will provide benefits both for his rotations and bottom line as well.
Clarence Laub, Jr., left, and his son, Clarence Laub III made history at their farm this spring by being one of the first farms in the state to plant industrial hemp south of Elgin, N.D., under the Department of Agriculture license.

Get Onboard for Hempcrete Workshops

By Kathy Garton

Training for Professional Builders and DIYers


Just as computer software has forced us to learn new methods, the materials that are used as building materials are also evolving. Cement, bricks, additives, timber, steel, polymers, glass and recycled materials have made the building industry a continuous learning process. Manufacturers have been helpful in providing information on different applications in construction, helping companies to better understand the benefits.
Hempcrete is a new form of technology that is rising quickly in popularity. While the production of hemp has been hampered with federal regulations and red tape, the US is moving closer to ending this debacle, and the market for hempcrete is about to burst wide open.
Composition of Hempcrete
Hempcrete can be used to replace OSB, insulation and drywall, with better results. It can also be cast around timber, steel, or concrete frames. Hempcrete provides additional support to the frame and is a great insulator. Lightweight, sustainable, mold resistant, rot resistant, pest resistant and fire resistant, hempcrete offers the optimum in indoor air quality and energy efficiency.
Building Dos and Don’ts with Hempcrete
While this material may sound like the answer to all-around better living, there are areas where hempcrete cannot be used. Pouring hempcrete for foundations, for example, is not recommended due to the biodegradable properties that can break down from excess moisture over long periods of time. However, walls, attics or lofts, underneath floors, plasters, new builds and insulating older homes are great ways to incorporate hempcrete.
Along with understanding the proper way to use hemp, there will also be local regulations set into place that need to be adhered to. Don’t wait until hempcrete hits the market to learn how to incorporate this fascinating material into your building needs. There are workshops available that explain hempcrete in depth for preparation, different uses, and benefits. Go to for more information on current workshops or how to schedule one in your area.

Hemp is eco-friendly. So why won't the government let farmers grow it?

By Esha Chhabra

US clothing company Jungmaven wants to convince Americans that hemp should be in their wardrobes as much as cotton.
US clothing company Jungmaven wants to convince Americans that hemp should be in their wardrobes as much as cotton. Photograph: Jungmaven

ob Jungmann wants to see everyone in a hemp t-shirt by 2020. That’s the tagline for his hemp-loving company Jungmaven . The conservationist and entrepreneur wants to convince Americans that hemp should be in their wardrobes as much as cotton.
And his campaign comes at the right time.
On July 4, a petition will be delivered to Congress urging them to pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015/2016 (S.134 and H.R. 525), legalizing the cultivation of industrial hemp in the US. Although Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag with hemp fibers and George Washington grew hemp at Mount Vernon, the fibrous plant, often confused with marijuana, became illegal during the Prohibition era, as politicians tried to regulate pharmaceuticals.
Marijuana and hemp both come from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa. Once it was discovered the plant’s flowers can can have psychoactive effects,cultivators began growing separate strains of the plant – one normal variety, and one whose flowers contained higher levels of the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), leading to tighter regulation.
Today, 30 countries around the world allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, China being the largest producer and exporter. Canada, which produces hemp for food and toiletries, legalized the crop in 1996. The US, on the other hand, hasrestricted hemp production and categorized hemp in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, attributing it as a relative of marijuana.
Jungman refers to this period – from Prohibition to 2014, when hemp was completely outlawed “as a dark time in US political history”. That, however, is changing.
As of March 2016, more than half of the 50 states have laws that allow for some hemp production, according to this chart. Yet, many states, such as California, where Jungmaven is based, will only allow for industrial hemp cultivation when federal law coincides with state law. That is, when Congress passes a bill permitting industrial hemp across the US. Currently, Jungmann imports his hemp from China, but he’s confident Congress will pass the bill legalizing industrial farming of hemp in July.
“Hemp can build cars, homes, food, textiles and more,” he says. “[It’s] as American as apple pie.”
Jungmaven shirts, made from hemp.
 Jungmaven shirts, made from hemp. Photograph: Jungmaven
The Agricultural Act of 2014, or more commonly known as the Farm Bill, did open a few doors: namely, allowing states to experiment with hemp for research purposes. Plus it defined industrial hemp as having less than 0.3% of THC, compared to marijuana, which has 10-30%.
Still, hemp is different from other crops such as cotton, wheat, and soy because farmers are required to get approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) before they sow the seeds. No other agricultural product has that stipulation to overcome.
Lewis is the director of Growing Warriors, a project devoted to helping the country’s veterans find livelihoods in sustainable agriculture. Hemp is one of their flagship products; in fact, in 2014, Growing Warriors was the first group of private citizens to grow hemp on US soil in 70 years.In a new short film produced by Patagonia,Harvesting Liberty, Michael Lewis, a veteran and hemp grower in Kentucky, shares his encounter with the DEA. In 2014, after the passage of the Farm Bill, Lewis was keen to plant hemp in Kentucky. “[But] the DEA didn’t agree that we had a right to plant the crop. They said they would arrest us,” he says in the film. The matter ended up in the Louisville court, where a judge sided with the farmers. “[We] took our seeds up, got them registered and certified, and threw them into the ground before anyone could change their mind,” Lewis says.
“When you think about the type of industry that typically takes place in central Appalachia, you’re looking at coal and manufacturing,” Lewis says. “And those are very extractive industries. They pull things out without giving back. Industrial hemp is a more community building industry.”
Hemp allows farmers to build a livelihood from a crop that’s both good for the environment and the growers themselves. Hemp puts back nitrogen into the soil. Cotton, on the other hand, can deplete the land’s nutrients, especially if not rotated with other crops. Unlike cotton which produces shorter fibers, hemp, though brittle when dry, thrives when it’s wet, explains Derek Thomas, co-founder of Hemp Blue, a LA-based startup producing hemp-based jeans, jackets, and shirts. The long, wet fibers don’t break, but actually grow in strength, he says. Hemp’s longer, wet fibers have greater durability than cotton, which has short fibers that need to be spun and woven.
Plus, hemp takes less water and produces more plants per acre, adds Jungmann, which is why he’s an advocate of hemp in California, where cotton farming has historically flourished. Due to the drought, cotton farmers have been struggling to maintain yields. Jungmann sees hemp as a solution for California’s parched soil.
However, even if federal regulations allow California to grow industrial hemp in abundance, there’s still another massive challenge facing the hemp fiber industry in the US – infrastructure.
“Hemp is significantly more expensive than cotton,” says Thomas. “That’s largely because the hemp supply chain is encumbered with setbacks. We just don’t have the machinery here in the US to produce the hemp textiles.”
People like Rebecca Burgess want to change that. As the founder of the Fibershed Project, she specializes in connecting farmers to weavers and designers to produce regional fabrics.
Fibershed has connected Lewis to sheep farms that help him blend hemp and wool together to produce a soft, viable textile that can then be taken straight to designers. The aim of the project is to “inspire economic development for regionally produced cloth,” says Burgess.
Lewis has even built his own machine to process the hemp. Using a Patagonia grant, he created a piece of equipment called a “break”, which incorporates design details borrowed from early European flax roller breaks. Lewis’s invention is a one-of-a-kind machine. It works by separating the hemp’s woody core from the fibers which are used in textiles. According to Lewis, the highest quantity of finished hemp fiber processed in a day using the machine is around 60lbs – which means about 600lbs of raw material. A newer version of the break, which Lewis is currently working on, will have a capacity to produce about 2000lbs per day of raw material.
Michael Lewis with his special, one-of-a-kind hemp processing machine, called a break.
 Michael Lewis with his special, one-of-a-kind hemp processing machine, called a break. Photograph: D Hedden
Jungmann and Thomas aren’t the only ones relying on China for their hemp supply. Today, Patagonia carries about two dozen products in hemp. Most are mixed with other materials, namely organic cotton. Jill Dumain, director of environmental strategy at Patagonia, developed the first hemp supply chain for the outdoor brand in the 1990s. She recalls trying to find suppliers of hemp fabrics in the US and getting frustrated because most of these suppliers were more interested in legalizing marijuana, rather than industrial hemp for fashion. When she requested cost estimates for fabric, she would get price sheets for puny quantities: five to 10 yards.
“That clearly was not going to cut it,” she says. “I was looking to buy 10,000 or 20,000 yards of fabric and Patagonia wasn’t interested in the legalizing marijuana debate. As a result, I ended up going to China.”
Dumain says Patagonia is finally rallying behind the industrial hemp movement in the US because the time is right.
“The US has not had a modern textile industry in hemp or even linen,” she says. “To do the work in the US is a long road because we have to develop the entire industry: from growing it to processing it to weaving it into a finished fabric. But now there are people that we can partner with.”
These include entrepreneurs like Jungmann, Thomas, Burgess and Lewis. “But things really change when the purchasing power of America gets behind it,” Thomas says. “And that’s what has to happen with hemp. That’s why I started this company – to give people the option of buying a pair of hemp jeans.”