April 2009

Left Out of Hemp’s Renaissance, U.S. Farmers Continue Legal Battle

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2009 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ — The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), a trade association consisting of hundreds of hemp businesses, has just released final estimates of the size of the U.S. retail market for hemp food and body care products in 2008. Data supporting the estimates show that retail sales of hemp food and body care products in the U.S. have continued to set records in 2008. Strong sales of popular hemp items like non-dairy milk, shelled hemp seed, soaps and lotions have occurred against the backdrop of state-licensed hemp farmers in North Dakota fighting a high stakes legal battle against the DEA to grow hemp for U.S. manufacturers. The new sales data validate U.S. farmers’ position that they are being shut out of the lucrative hemp market that Canadian farmers have cashed in on for over a decade now.

The sales data, collected by the market research firm SPINS, were obtained from natural and conventional food retailers, excluding Whole Foods Market and other establishments not providing sales data – and thus underestimate actual sales by a factor of at least three. According to the SPINS data, hemp grocery sales grew in the sampled stores by 42% over the previous year ending December 27, 2008, or $2.56 million, to a total of $8.64 million. The SPINS data also show that sales of hemp body care products grew by 19%, or $3.00 million, over the previous year to a total of $19.12 million. Finally, according to SPINS, combined hemp food, body care and vitamin product sales grew by 22%, or $6.11 million, over the previous year to a total of $33.51 million.

Due to significant sales excluded from the SPINS data, such as The Body Shop, Whole Foods Market and restaurants, as well as the fact that many unreported leading mass-market brands of suntan lotion and sunscreen products include hemp oil, the HIA estimates the total retail value of North American hemp food, vitamin and body care product sales to be in the range of $100-120 million for 2008.

“Farmers who want to grow hemp to support the steady double-digit growth are mad as ever about being shut out by our backward federal government,” says David Bronner, who makes Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and uses hemp oil in all his top-selling products. “The HIA is confident that the total North American hemp food and body care market over the last year accounted for $100-120 million in retail sales,” adds Bronner, who also chairs the HIA Food and Oil Committee. Full article here.

April 27, 2009 – Texas Republican Ron Paul, along with ten co-sponsors, is once again seeking to allow for the commercial farming of industrial hemp.

House Bill 1866, The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009, would exclude low potency ron_paulvarieties of marijuana from federal prohibition. If approved, this measure will grant state legislatures the authority to license and regulate the commercial production of hemp as an industrial and agricultural commodity.

Several states — including North Dakota, Montana, and Vermont — have enacted regulations to allow for the cultivation of hemp under state law. However, none of these laws can be implemented without federal approval. Passage of HR 1866 would remove existing federal barriers and allow states that wish to regulate commercial hemp production the authority to do so.

Upon introducing the bill in Congress, Rep. Paul said: “It is unfortunate that the federal government has stood in the way of American farmers, including many who are struggling to make ends meet, from competing in the global industrial hemp market. Indeed, the founders of our nation, some of whom grew hemp, would surely find that federal restrictions on farmers growing a safe and profitable crop on their own land are inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of a limited, restrained federal government. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to stand up for American farmers and cosponsor the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.”

According to a 2005 Congressional Resource Service report, the United States is the only developed nation that fails to cultivate industrial hemp as an economic crop. As a result, U.S. companies that specialize in hempen goods — such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Patagonia, Nature’s Path, and Nutiva — have no choice but to import hemp material. These added production costs are then passed on to the consumer who must pay artificially high retail prices for hemp products.

April 22nd 2009 – The three Democratic candidates for Manhattan district attorney said Tuesday they back the legalization of medical marijuana.

“Doctors should be able to prescribe marijuana for patients with serious health conditions – or side effects, like those from chemotherapy – when they determine that it is medically appropriate,” said DA hopeful Richard Aborn in response to a Daily News inquiry.

“Patients, in turn, who receive their doctor’s prescription, should be able to obtain marijuana, with appropriate controls to ensure safety and prevent criminal trafficking,” Aborn added.

Leslie Crocker Snyder and Cy Vance, the other two Democratic candidates, also voiced support.

In Albany, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and state Sen. Thomas Duane, both Manhattan Democrats, introduced legislation that would protect New York patients from arrest for using medical marijuana.

“It is cruel to make seriously ill patients criminals for relying on medical marijuana for relief when their doctor recommends it,” said Gottfried, who has been pushing the issue for more than a decade. Full article here.

April 16th, 2009 – UNDER A MICROSCOPE, it’s easy to tell really good marijuana from schwag. Look for trichomes. On the best pot, they cluster, thick and crystalline, indicators of potency. If you’re training to become a professional pot dealer, as I was last fall, it’s important to be able to pick out the good stuff. Your livelihood will depend on it. Fortunately, I had expert instruction, along with strains of varying quality to examine for my pedagogical benefit. Ranked from best to worst, they were Blueberry, Grand Daddy Purple, and Mango. Appraising them was, truth be told, slightly nerve-racking, since the assignment was sprung as a sort of pop quiz. It was part of an advanced seminar on growing and selling marijuana in which I had enrolled at the Los Angeles campus of Oaksterdam University, a new trade school founded in Oakland and devoted to the booming business of growing and dispensing medical marijuana. Or, as we liked to call it around campus, “cannabusiness.”

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, a referendum legalizing medical marijuana. Although federal law prohibits the cultivation, sale, or use of cannabis, a series of subsequent state laws and court decisions cleared the way for what has become a thriving industry. Recent studies say that Californians grow more than 20 million pot plants. Their bounty, valued at as much as $14 billion, is distributed to the state’s 200,000 physician-certified users through hundreds of dispensaries, which advertise through billboards, flyers, and even bikini-clad barkers on Venice Beach. Given California’s well-publicized budget crunch, it’s worth noting that legal pot sales generate $100 million in state tax revenue a year. As Don Duncan, the proprietor of dispensaries in Berkeley and Hollywood and an Oaksterdam professor, put it, “Marijuana has evolved from a countercultural experience to an over-the-counter experience.”

A veteran pot activist named Richard Lee founded Oaksterdam in 2007 to serve this new and lucrative trade and add a veneer of respectability to an industry operating in a legal gray area. (The feds have adopted a mostly hands-off policy, though they occasionally swoop in to make an example-setting arrest, like that of the comedian and stoner icon Tommy Chong, in 2003, for running a head shop.) State law requires no formal training to operate a dispensary, so an Oaksterdam degree is more showpiece than necessity.

My introductory class had consisted of two sessions. The first taught the legal and business aspects of running a dispensary and, because the faculty is active in the cannabusiness, emphasized such practical concerns as not getting robbed (keep your stash in a gun safe) and not getting busted (exude good corporate citizenship—incorporate, pay your taxes, join the Chamber of Commerce; Duncan won over suspicious neighbors by cleaning up all the dog poop on the block). Learn your bud: what’s good, what’s bad. Carry a variety of strains, at different price points. Know their effects. For instance, you’ll need to explain to customers that sativas produce a clear, heady high, while indicas cause a drowsier, full-bodied kind of lift (and munchies). You’ll want to sample everything.

The second session was Grow Lab, taught by a reed-thin young man in a kimono shirt, who introduced himself as Joey the Horticulturalist. State law allows patients and caregivers to grow 12 plants, but some localities set higher limits (Oakland, for instance, allows 72), so if you prefer to do without external suppliers, you can grow your own. Joey had assembled a nylon “Hydro Hut,” with lights, ventilator fans, and a grow table—your basic beginner setup. While explaining how everything fit together and how we would plant, grow, and harvest a crop as a class project, Joey effortlessly fielded a series of increasingly technical questions, earning respectful nods. For raw botanical skills, Martha Stewart can’t hold a candle to Joey.

The vibe at Oaksterdam was friendly, but without quite encouraging intermingling. I struck up a conversation with the guy behind me. Balding and bearded, with a ponytail and a tie-dyed shirt, he looked to be about 60 and introduced himself simply as “Hawkeye.” Hawkeye had ambitions to be a large-scale commercial grower—not strictly legal, although I did not sense concern. Yet he was the only cliché-worthy specimen I encountered at pot school. My 30 or so classmates encompassed every age, gender, and ethnicity; paid careful attention; and asked pointed, intelligent questions. Save for perhaps a slight overrepresentation of piercings and tattoos, nothing indicated an unusual field of study. The atmosphere of purposeful endeavor was like what you might find at a night-school business class of aspiring franchisees.

This is fitting, because Oaksterdam has big ambitions. Richard Lee hinted at them when he founded the school, by creating a seal, or, more accurately, remodeling one—Harvard’s, actually, the Latin VERITAS replaced by CANNABIS and the oak clusters swapped for marijuana leaves. Like the great universities, Oaksterdam seeks to imbue its students with a vision of the world and the zeal to go forth and change it. As Ilia Gvozdenovic, Oaksterdam’s sallow, 20-something chancellor, explained, the aim is to mold a generation not just of pot dealers but of pot idealists, comrades in the struggle against federal persecution. So, really, Oaksterdam is less like Harvard and more like the University of Chicago, only with the complaint against government intervention in the market confining itself specifically to the market for cannabinoids.

Not convinced? You need to think with an open mind. And I can help you there—I’m a trained professional.


Great interview with Ron Paul. Federal Drug War has failed. Let the States manage drug regulation. The real drug problems are alcohol and nicotine.
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