‘We look to Canada and Europe for hemp industry models’

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Pamela Bosch is an educator, artist and hemp activist, and founder of Highland Hemp House, a pioneering project in the State of Washington to use hemp-lime and other natural materials for retrofit to create an ideal, healthy living space. She formerly taught at Bellingham Technical College and Northwest Indian College, also of Bellingham. A member of the Washington State Farm Bureau, Pamela works at both the state and federal levels to clear the path for growing, processing and making products from hemp.

HT: Give us a general update on progress with hemp in Washington.
Pamela Bosch: In Washington we have legal marijuana but no state law that addresses industrial hemp, which is still subject to the limitations of the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act of 1971. Our research universities have been instructed not to plant hemp.

Last year we had two bills proposing to legalize industrial hemp. The first, a one-page bill that simply called for declaring hemp an agricultural crop, passed the Senate with 100% support. The proposed House bill was 23 pages and specified a number of regulations including a list of which strains could be grown. It failed to go to vote. As time passes, education continues; this year we are hoping again for a bill like the Senate version.

HT: What’s specific about the hemp situation in Washington?
PB: There is an issue that has not been part of the discussion. Cannabis that has more than 3% THC content is labeled “marijuana” and less than .3% is “industrial hemp”. What do you call the plant that is in between? We might call it “ditch weed” because this is the THC range that the plant naturalizes to when it goes feral. This is also the plant that carries the diverse genetic potential to develop strains for various uses, climates, growing conditions, and which is not owned by any large seed producer. The feds could still come in and burn it down if we label IH as Cannabis with less than .3% THC.

If we are able to get a federal law that identifies industrial hemp as having less than 0.3% THC (it is unlikely that a federal law will be less restrictive), Washington State, with legal marijuana, could be a leader in developing the agronomic potential of such industrial hemp strains. This awareness has become part of the activism.

HT: How is Highland Hemp House positioning itself with respect to the legal challenges and the Washington hemp industry as a whole?
PB: In addition to advocating for a favorable law, we are simultaneously investigating how hemp will fit into local farming practices, exploring processing facilities, identifying potential markets, and so on. We look to Europe and Canada for hemp industrymodels, but we are constrained by the uncertainty of the legal status of the plant.

HT: You recently manned the first hemp booth at the Washington State Farm Bureau convention since before WWII. What was the reaction of the farmers who attended?
PB: Reactions were very mixed. As in the general public, there is still a lot of fear that advocating for industrial hemp is merely a subterfuge for marijuana. Even though adults in Washington can now buy marijuana, there is a tendency to believe that hemp advocates are “potheads” with emotional attachment to Cannabis and unrealistic projections of its potential.

At the same time, farmers are businessmen. That we were invited to have a booth is evidence that the economic potential of industrial hemp is getting serious attention. We were definitely the most visited booth with the widest range of feedback.

Farmers who get past the drug fear are asking about who would buy the crop, what it rotates with, how much they can get per acre, about fertilizer, water, and pesticide requirements and, not of least concern — how to control it. We have many questions that might be addressed by European and Canadian farmers. We need better information sharing networks.

HT: You’re retro fitting a house from the 70s with hemp-lime. When you strip away the ‘skin’ and ‘innards’ in the walls, what old materials do you find there?
PB: My house is a typical ‘stick-frame’ with cedar siding. The structure is made of 2 x 4 inch (35 x 90 mm) lumber that is 15 in (320mm) on center. The interior is painted with acrylic paint over drywall. Behind the drywall is fiberglass insulation. There is some sort of plywood, “tar paper,” cedar siding, a base of oil paint, and then acrylic. If built today, OSB would replace the plywood and Tyvek the tar paper. These materials are now manufactured in China.

HT: Beyond the use of hemp for walls, and other parts of the structure, what other systems and technologies do you plan to install that will help make the home more carbon neutral?
PB: I am fortunate to have good orientation for solar gain. I will be able to incorporate both passive solar with south facing windows, and solar voltaic roof panels. (I have the roof space to incorporate enough solar to power an electric car). I am planning to use design and integrated technology to control ventilation, shades, and lighting. I expect my heating requirements to be less than half of current use. I have not yet decided on the heating system.

I’m looking for interested parties to make suggestions as to how this model of building with hempcrete could also demonstrate best use of energy, design, and building materials. Of particular interest are other hemp-based products including fabrics, rope, engineered lumber, insulation, and hemp boards.

HT: How did you first get interested and involved in industrial hemp?
PB: I was looking for an insulating material for my house. I didn’t want to use anything toxic or made from petrochemicals. I thought that since hemp had been grown in Canada for a decade and a half that maybe they were making hemp fiber insulation. But it could only be found in Europe. It was too expensive to import.  As I looked for hemp insulation, however, the word “hempcrete” kept showing up. So I started reading and haven’t stopped.

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