Hemp

A New Public Private Partnership, the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan (CHAMP), Is Set to Strengthen the State’s Leadership Position in Hemp

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Originally appeared in the Let’s Talk Hemp Blog & Newsletter
By Steven Hoffman

With the passage in 2012 of marijuana legalization in Colorado, the hemp industry also got an early start in the state, and Colorado is now considered one of the country’s epicenters of hemp agriculture, manufacturing and production. To further that leadership position, Governor Jared Polis has created a unique new public-private initiative, the Colorado Hemp Advancement & Management Plan (CHAMP). His priority in establishing the CHAMP initiative is for “Colorado to remain an innovating force in the promotion of this high-value agricultural commodity,” says the CHAMP website.

Led by Betsy Markey, former Representative to U.S. Congress and current cabinet member of the Polis administration and Executive Director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, along with Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, CHAMP is a year-long statewide initiative that brings together state, local and tribal agencies, as well as industry experts in cultivation, testing, research, processing, finance, economics and marketing. The collaborative effort to help formulate a blueprint for Colorado’s hemp industry includes the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Governor’s Office, Department of Public Health and Environment, Department of Revenue, Department of Regulatory Agencies, Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Department of Public Safety, Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, Department of Higher Education, local governments and industry experts.

“We had one of the first hemp programs in the country,” Greenberg recently told Westword Magazine. “We’ve got pretty incredible experience in Colorado; our state is set up for it, and our governor is all about hemp. It’s a fantastic time to be doing this work in Colorado, so I think by all accounts, we are ahead of the game. Our intent is to stay there,” she said. In addition to serving as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, Greenberg is the former Western Program Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition.

When asked about how to handle issues like “hot” hemp (hemp that exceeds the legal limit of THC), Greenberg said, “Before CHAMP, we didn’t have an avenue to figure these things out, so we took leadership in creating a structure that will allow regulatory agencies, industries, Native tribes, learning institutions and farmers to sit around a table and actually develop answers. There are still so many questions about the X, Y and Z of hemp — like interstate transport [and] how the Department of Public Safety can determine what is hemp and what is not. All of those questions finally have a table to sit at,” Greenberg said.

“CHAMP… is a huge, coordinated effort that includes anyone who has a stake in the game across Colorado, but it’s also going to be open-sourced,” Greenberg continued. “We’ve been talking to other states that don’t have programs, and are offering our expertise. We don’t see this as something we need to hold on to and keep away from everyone. We’ve got a national and international industry with this now, and we can’t keep it within closed borders in Colorado. This is going to have to include interstate commerce, and we really see our creativity and desire to bring in thought leaders as ways to continue our leadership,” she added.

“One way to establish our leadership is getting our state plan into the USDA. We’re in close communication with the USDA to make sure they see us as a partner in this, and that we are a resource. Submitting our state plan is big here, just to make sure our state’s hemp program is still a leader. Another one is the larger CHAMP report, which will show what it takes to grow our hemp industry beyond the Farm Bill. This is a big-vision process,” Greenberg said.

The CHAMP initiative is divided into eight “Stakeholder Groups,” including Research & Development and Seed; Cultivation; Transportation; Testing; Processing; Manufacturing (Food Commodities); Marketing; and Banking and Insurance. The stakeholder groups are scheduled to meet this summer and fall. In addition, leaders of the CHAMP initiative will hold several public meetings, with the first scheduled for Friday, August 16, 2019, in Hesperus, CO. To RSVP for the public meeting and for more information, visit https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/agplants/champ-initiative.

Editor’s Note: Morris Beegle, Co-founder of We Are for Better Alternatives (WAFBA), producer of the NoCo Hemp Expo, Southern Hemp Expo, Hemp on the Slope, Hawaii Hemp Expo and the Let’s Talk Hemp Podcast and Newsletter, was appointed to serve on the CHAMP Marketing Stakeholder Group. In addition, Steven Hoffman of Compass Natural, public relations agency of record for WAFBA and Editor of the Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, was also named to the CHAMP Marketing Stakeholder Group.

Hemp Harassment: Leading Online Retailer Thrive Market Forced to Cease Sales of All Hemp and CBD Products in Banking Backlash

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

Originally appeared in the Let’s Talk Hemp Blog & Newsletter
By Steven Hoffman

In a seeming backlash to the burgeoning hemp economy, hemp and CBD retailers, industry associations and other hemp-centric businesses are being denied or threatened with denial of banking, credit card processing and other key business services, including a national newswire service that announced this past month it will no longer accept press releases from hemp companies, and is, in fact, deleting all existing and previously issued press releases related to hemp and CBD from its online archives. It is a disturbing trend in an industry that was made legal across the U.S. as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill and is projected to grow to $26.6 billion by 2025.

It has forced such retailers as leading online natural products grocer Thrive Market to cease sales of all hemp and CBD products, a best-selling category over the past 18 months on its nationally recognized ecommerce site. The member-based online retailer boasts more than 500,000 members. “In early June, we received a notice from our merchant processor demanding that we cease the sale of all hemp and CBD products on Thrive Market. We unfortunately have no choice but to comply, and we’ll begin removing our assortment as early as Thursday, June 20,” wrote Thrive Market’s cofounder and CEO Nick Green in his blog on June 17. As of this writing, clicking on that assortment link takes you to a blank product page on Thrive Market’s website.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Hemp Authority, a not-for-profit trade group developing certification standards for the industry, lost payment processing services in June after being dropped by its vendor, Stripe, based in San Francisco, reported Hemp Today on June 20. According a report in CNN Business, Stripe said it dropped the U.S. Hemp Authority’s account because of liability concerns, despite the fact that the trade organization is not a seller of any hemp products. “We’re being told we’re high risk. We’re actually trying to minimize human risk,” Hemp Authority president Marielle Weintraub told CNN.

Abrupt Notice
Since a leading credit card processor, Elavon, a subsidiary of U.S. Bank, abruptly notified its hemp and CBD clients in March 2019 that it had recategorized hemp and CBD merchants as a “prohibited business type” and was backing out within 45 days of handling payment processing for such companies, a number of hemp businesses have been scrambling to establish secure and durable payment processing relationships. According to one estimate by Philippa Burgess, cofounder of MMJ FinSol, a Denver-based financial services solutions company for hemp, cannabis and other “high-risk” businesses, Elavon’s policy changes affected up to 40,000 CBD companies.

Another merchant processor, Fortress Payment Technologies, in May 2019 notified all its ecommerce customers selling CBD products that they would no longer be able to process Visa credit card payments through the bank. Some sellers received less than eight hours’ notice of these changes, reported Folium Biosciences, a vertically integrated hemp-derived phytocannabinoid producer based in Colorado Springs. The company recently launched a CBD/hemp friendly financial services platform for its customers to help remove the financial hurdles faced by the CBD industry, it said.

Kyle Rapoza, cofounder of Vermont-based Mansfield Provisions, which distributes CBD products online and through brick and mortar retail partnerships, lost credit card processing services for his company in late May 2019, when Elavon stopped doing business with the hemp industry. He explained to Ganjapreneur Magazine that, in the wake of Elavon’s action, many of the industry operators he knows and does business with are moving back to high risk (and high fee) accounts. Rapoza has since been able to access more traditional business accounts through a state credit union, Ganjapreneur reported.

Biggest Challenge Facing the Hemp Industry
It’s a “difficult time” for the industry as it related to financial services, which he called “the biggest challenge in the industry right now,” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for Kentucky-based industry association Hemp Roundtable, told Ganjapreneur. “The law, we believe, is clear that since the [2018 Farm Bill], hemp and CBD are no longer controlled substances. There should be no concern whatsoever that there would be violations of federal law to engage in commerce. …Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation – it’s banks, it’s credit card companies, it’s merchant services that have been refusing to do business with these hemp and CBD companies.”

Because banks have been so hesitant to serve hemp and CBD businesses despite the legalization of hemp in the Farm Bill, U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (R-OR) – chief proponents of legalizing hemp – in April 2019 sent individualized letters to four federal banking and financial regulatory institutions, imploring them to prevent banking discrimination of the hemp industry, reported Cannalaw Blog.

In addition, when pressed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) at a hearing in June 2019, Marijuana Moment reported that Federal Reserve board member Michelle Bowman pledged to inform banks that they can service hemp businesses. When Tester asked specifically how the Fed is advising institutions when it comes to hemp, Bowman responded, “We have not told them that they cannot bank them.” Tester countered that while he and Bowman might be on the same page, it is possible that banks were hearing a different message—hence why hemp businesses have said that they’re still experiencing difficulties accessing credit. Tester said clarification is especially important at this stage because of fallout from trade wars with China and Mexico, as hemp represents a potentially lucrative crop for American farmers. “I would agree with you. We would not discourage banks from banking these types of customers,” Bowman said. “We’ll try to clarify that. Hemp is not an illegal crop.”

What, No Press Releases?
While certain merchant banks seek to stifle hemp industry growth through the denial of critical financial services, another service provider in the media newswire business seeks to silence its voice.

One leading hemp industry media and event production company, Colorado Hemp Company, based in Loveland, CO – producer of the NoCo Hemp Expo, Southern Hemp Expo, and the Let’s Talk Hemp weekly newsletter and podcast – was recently informed by its newswire service, ReleaseWire, that it will not post or distribute any new press releases that mention hemp, and in addition, it was deleting all existing and previous press releases mentioning hemp that Colorado Hemp Company had posted in the past. In a policy update issued on May 8, 2019, ReleaseWire, one of the nation’s leading online national newswire services, issued the following statement, after which it began informing hemp-centric businesses that not only were they not accepting new press releases for distribution, they were deleting all existing press releases and archives related to cannabis, hemp or CBD:

“ReleaseWire was recently contacted by our credit card processor and informed that they have a policy in place that restricts merchants, including ReleaseWire, from linking to, or providing information about, marijuana, cannabis, CBD, hemp and related products. As such, we have been instructed by our credit card processor that we must not only stop taking press release submissions on these topics, but we must remove any existing press releases and related content from our site. They have provided us with a small window of time to complete this process or risk losing the ability to process credit cards.”

Meanwhile, other newswire services including Cision, owner of PR Newswire and PRWeb, continue to accept and publish hemp, CBD and cannabis related press releases on behalf of clients.

Hemp Friendly Payment Processors
So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

While financial services group, Edward Jones, has no official policy about outreach to the hemp industry, a broker in Bend, OR, contacted Hemp Industry Daily to say he was offering a “full spectrum of banking, investment, insurance and financial planning services to hemp farmers.” Officially, Edward Jones is “looking at the provision in the Farm Bill that addresses hemp growing,” John Boul, manager of global media relations for the St. Louis-based Edward Jones told Hemp Industry Daily in April 2019.So which payment processors are willing to serve hemp and CBD companies? One such processor, Adept Payments, says on its website that it helps high risk businesses, including vape, CBD, adult, casinos and more.

Square, a leading online payment processor, recently soft-launched credit card processing for CBD companies, but the program is still in beta testing phase and is by invitation only. Former credit card processing professional and current blogger Phillip Parker, who describes his site, CardPaymentOptions.com, as a credit card processing watchdog group, posted a guide to the Best Merchant Accounts for Hemp Products in June 2019. Also, Merchant Maverick, a self-described comparison website that reviews and rates credit card processors, mobile payment services and other small business software, published a guide to the Best CBD Oil Merchant Account Providers in April 2019.

For CBD sellers on Shopify and other major ecommerce platforms, a recently launched processor, Organic Payment Gateways, advertises that its mission is to help people in the CBD business process payments online, and that its payment gateways work smoothly with Shopify, WooCommerce and others. Leap Payments, Instabill and other services promote that they are dedicated to ensuring CBD businesses “can accept debit and credit card payments just like any other business can.”

So, for now, you won’t find any hemp or CBD products at Thrive Market, however, the ecommerce retailer says it won’t give up without a fight. “We believe that ethical and sustainable hemp is another cause worth fighting for, so rest assured that we will be working behind the scenes in the coming weeks to get hemp products back on Thrive Market,” Nick Green wrote in his blog. “In fact, we’re already in conversations with a new processing partner to try to make that happen.”

Organic Hemp Production Emphasized to Lawmakers, Farmers During “Organic Week” Policy Conference in Washington, DC

Originally appeared on www.LetsTalkHemp.com

One Organic Farmer Treats Hemp Grown for CBD Like a “Specialty Vegetable Crop”
By Steven Hoffman

The importance of certified organic in hemp agriculture cannot be overstated. Currently, nearly 80,000 acres are in hemp production in the U.S., and very few of them are certified organic. That means that the majority of hemp produced in the U.S. is being grown conventionally, using potentially toxic, synthetic pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer derived from the fracking of natural gas.

Frankly, that’s not very good for the environment or for the oncoming climate crisis, as conventional agriculture is one of the largest non-point sources of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions contributing to global warming, and fracking releases massive quantities of methane – another potent GHG – into the atmosphere. On the other hand, organically grown hemp can actually sequestercarbon out of the atmosphere and put it back in the soil where it belongs, helping to keep CO2 and other noxious GHGs out of the atmosphere.

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Additionally, when given a choice, I’ll choose CBD and hemp extract products that are produced and processed organically, thus minimizing my dietary exposure to toxic pesticide residues and other chemical solvents, because who wants pesticide residues included with their concentrated botanical medicine?

Seeing the explosive growth of the hemp market in the wake of the 2018 Farm Bill, the organic industry’s leading trade association, the Organic Trade Association (www.ota.com) invited my communications agency, Compass Natural, to help plan and present an educational track focused on farmers’ perspectives and market opportunities for certified organic hemp, CBD and related products as part of OTA’s annual Organic Week policy conference, held May 20-23, 2019, in Washington, D.C. OTA’s Organic Week draws organic industry leaders from across the U.S. to interact with policymakers and Congressional leaders to help forward the interests of organic food and agriculture.

At the Organic Week conference, OTA announced that sales of organic products in the U.S. surpassed $50 billion, growing 6.3% to reach a record $52.5 billion in 2018. Almost 6% (5.7%) of all food sold in the U.S. is now organic, driven in large part by demand for organic produce, dairy, plant-based products, dietary supplements, textiles and fiber. “Organic is now considered mainstream. But the attitudes surrounding organic are anything but status quo,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the OTA. “In 2018, there was a notable shift in the mindset of those working in organic toward collaboration and activism to move the needle on the role organic can play in sustainability and tackling environmental initiatives.”

Lobbying for Hemp
As part of OTA’s Organic Week, I was scheduled to visit several congressional offices on Capitol Hill, lobbying on behalf of organic food and farming and industrial hemp, CBD and related products. The staff at the offices of Colorado Senators Michael Bennett and Cory Gardner were supportive of industrial hemp in our meetings, and in alignment with Colorado Governor Jared Polis’ goal of furthering Colorado’s leadership in industrial hemp, as were staff leaders in the offices of Colorado Representatives Joe Neguse and Diana DeGette. However, staff at the offices of Idaho Congressmen Russell Fulcher and Mike Simpson deferred to their state’s legislature when it came to my questions regarding Idaho’s seizure in January of a container shipment of industrial hemp from a licensed grower in Oregon bound for processing in Colorado, despite the 2018 federal Farm Bill declaring that interstate transport and commerce of hemp-derived products is now legal throughout the U.S.

In addition to our Capitol Hill visits, I moderated a lively seminar attended by a number of organic farmers interested in or already growing hemp for food, supplements and fiber as part of an educational track focused on hemp during OTA’s Organic Week. At the seminar, longtime organic farmer Chris Jagger, owner of Blue Fox Farm in Oregon, shared how he began growing hemp three years ago. Instead of planting hemp densely, like they do for fiber production where tall stalks and little foliage are desired, Chris farms his hemp like a specialty crop, or “like vegetables,’ he says, to cultivate the delicate hemp flowers for CBD extraction. Currently, a small number of organic certifiers, including OneCertCCOF and MOSA are certifying farms for organic hemp production, and rumor has it some other major certifiers will soon follow.

At the same time across town, hemp advocate Ben Droz participated in the inaugural Congressional Cannabis Forum hosted on May 21 by Washington, D.C.-based KCSA Strategic Communications. “While covering all aspects of the cannabis market, the KCSA forum presented a hemp panel that examined capital markets and the global economic implications of the legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Droz. “If hemp extracts become a global commodity, it might not necessarily benefit small scale farmers and producers,” he cautioned. “However, until the FDA comes up with more clear guidelines concerning hemp products, the big corporate players will continue to sit on the sidelines, allowing time for smaller brands to establish and build market share, but that could change at any time,” he said. Droz noted that the FDA scheduled its first public hearing on hemp and CBD in food and beverage for Friday, May 31, 2019. Information on the hearing is published in the Federal Register.

Organic agriculture is a bright spot in the U.S. farm economy, continuing to grow at a rate more than double the growth rate of the overall U.S. food market. According to new OTA data, the number of organic farms grew by 39% while the total number of farms in the U.S. shrank by 3% between 2012 and 2017. Organic products can now be found in more than 82% of U.S. homes, and in some states, including California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and my home state of Colorado, organic products are in over 90% of U.S. households. Here’s hoping that organically produced hemp follows suit.

David Bronner, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Other Leaders in Natural Products and Industrial Hemp to Speak at 6th Annual NoCo Hemp Expo, March 28-30, in Denver

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, March 2019
By Steven Hoffman

Photo: Dr. Bronner’s

Photo: Dr. Bronner’s

Hemp industry and natural products pioneer David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of the 5th generation soap company Dr. Bronner’s, will be a featured keynote speaker at the upcoming NoCo Hemp Expo (NoCo6), March 28-30, 2019, at the Crowne Plaza DIA Convention Center in Denver.

In addition, Colorado’s newly elected Governor Jared Polis, who in his first State of the State speech in January 2019 announced his plan to “make good on the promise of industrial hemp,” will be a featured speaker at NoCo6.

Now in its 6th year, NoCo Hemp Expo is the largest gathering of hemp industry professionals under one roof. Approximately 8,000-10,000 attendees, including investors, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, farmers, producers, retailers and other leaders in hemp are expected to attend the 2019 event to participate a newly added pre-conference Hemp Industry Daily Investor's Forum on March 28, plus a full-day Business Conference, Farm Symposium and expanded Exhibition Hall open to professionals on March 29-30. Additionally, tickets are available to the public to visit the Expo Hall on Saturday, March 30.

A tireless advocate for cannabis legalization and numerous other social justice and environmental causes, David Bronner will address the opportunities and challenges facing the hemp industry and how to navigate business growth in an exploding market, as industrial hemp is now legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. David’s talk, scheduled for Saturday, March 30, also will address hemp’s key role in regenerative organic agriculture to help rebuild soils, sequester carbon and mitigate climate change.

Photo: State of Colorado

Photo: State of Colorado

Governor Polis, an Internet entrepreneur, educational leader, former U.S. Congressman and Colorado native, is a longtime supporter of the hemp and cannabis industries. He advocated for expungement of non-violent cannabis-related criminal records, expansion of Colorado’s medical marijuana program and non-cooperation with enforcement of federal prohibition during his campaign. Governor Polis even had the programs for his inauguration on January 8 printed on hemp paper.

“Hemp is an amazingly versatile crop, and I’m proud to see Colorado’s rural communities leading the way to unleash its untapped economic potential,” he said during the campaign. “As Governor, I’ll support our farmers and innovators who want to develop industrial hemp—and I’ll tell the federal government to stay out of their way.”

The hemp industry is poised for exponential growth now that this incredibly useful plant is legal to grow and sell in the U.S. for the first time in over 80 years, and is expected to reach $4 billion in sales by 2022. Visit www.nocohempexpo.com.