INTERVIEW: Morris Beegle
Founder & Owner, Colorado Hemp Company
Morris Beegle spent more than 20 years in the American entertainment industry before turning his attention to the growing U.S. market for ecological, sustainable products. He is the founder and owner of the Colorado Hemp Company (CHC), organizer of NoCo Expo, one of the premier U.S.-based hemp industry trade shows, which recently held its third annual Expo. CHC also offers a wide range of marketing, product and brand development services for hemp-based producers and retailers. Morris is on the business advisory council of the (U.S.) National Hemp Association.
HempToday: Compare NoCo 2016 to 2015.
Morris Beegle: The event this year was significantly larger than last year. We moved from 13,000 square feet with 73-74 vendors and 1,300 attendees to 36,000 square feet, 130+ vendors and 3,200 attendees. The number of industry oriented people increased significantly as did attendance from consumers and the general public. The buzz and energy in the venue was quite similar to the first two years with lots of excitement and enthusiasm. That’s the intention and the goal. If we can keep multiplying the energy underneath the NoCo roof every year, we’ll end up with an industry that will be unstoppable.
HT: What surprised you this past NoCo?
MB: I’m not sure it’s so much of a surprise but what continues to blow me away are the number of really smart and passionate people who increase in numbers at this event every year. From industry pioneers to new blood and energy from multiple sectors of industry who are truly committed to the plant and pushing the boundaries of science, technology and innovation. I can’t tell you how gratifying and exciting it is to see this happening.
HT: How do you see the demographics of the hemp movement, and the growing industry?
MB: Here’s what’s amazing about the demographics: They are extremely diverse. We have a very calculated approach to creating a “big tent” in which everybody is welcome. We feel this plant is important to all of humanity, and we want everybody to have the opportunity to experience and understand its importance to our species and the health of the planet. Of course we have the overall cannabis choir that has been growing in numbers over the years. But now we’re reaching consumers and businesses from almost all the green, organic, sustainable, holistic, alternative markets, as well as standard petroleum-chemical-GMO driven industries where folks are having a moral awakening about the impacts of those products on the environment and health of society. We have a long way to go to further penetrate all these demographics, but the good news is they all seem receptive. Through continued education, collaboration of industry, scientific advancement, and the proliferation of this information through all available media outlets, the entire world is our audience.
HT: NoCo’s an obvious marriage of your background in entertainment combined with your passion for a sustainable future. Do you see your business expanding around this combination?
MB: Absolutely. I’ve been in the music and entertainment industries since the mid 1980’s, right out of high school. Being able to mix music, education, advocacy, commerce, networking and interaction, and more than anything, the awakening of consciousness – I most certainly believe there is a future in that. We will continue to be involved in a variety of events and projects that combine entertainment and sustainability.
HT: Aside from the barrier the DEA still represents in the States, what do you think are the other challenges facing industrial hemp — in Colorado and around North America? What do you think the industry should really be focused on over the next five years?
MB: There are three things outside of the DEA and government policy follies that need to be ironed out and put in place the next 5 years:
First, seed. Everyone needs access to certified seed varieties from around the world to get the domestic industry in the USA off the ground. At the same time, the development of localized seed breeding so that in the next 5-10 years, we have a multitude of varieties for different areas and climates of the country. Breeders rights need to be respected during this process so that genetics are not being stolen and everybody’s intellectual property is protected.
Second, we need infrastructure and processing; this is just beginning to be put into place. Processing implementation of all the raw materials is key and needs to happen in conjunction with manufacturing and product development. Delivery and distribution channel development beyond the internet is also key.
Finally, the industry obviously needs funding and capital infusion. We’ve seen the need for this in the UK and Canada the last 15-20 years and it’s no different here. There’s a lot of financial interest in cannabis marijuana, but we’ve yet to see the money flow to cannabis hemp. Once this industry is “seeded” correctly with capital, it will certainly expedite the growth and advancement of the industry.
HT: The FDA’s guidance to some hemp-health re-sellers in the USA late last year has hemp seed and oil players in Europe nervous, as North America is a key export market for these companies. How do you see that whole situation playing out with regard to health claims, labeling, etc. for hemp products?
MB: This will be very interesting to watch. I wish I could predict a positive outcome for all, but I see it as being fairly messy and a pain in the ass for the industry. In regards to health claims, it’s pretty simple: We cannot not make specific health or medical claims regarding hemp products in the USA. The vast majority, if not a consensus, believe that hemp related extract products containing CBD and other cannabinoids are nutritional supplements, just like vitamins, minerals, essential oils, medicinal herbs and teas, etc., as long as there is low or no THC in the product. If it’s non-psychoactive, and these compounds are good for personal health – science is pretty clear that they are – these are nutritional supplements and should be classified and regulated as such.
The FDA has unfortunately taken what seems to be a position that is anti-science and anti-consumer health and leaning towards big pharma. If the FDA actually does it’s job to act in the best interest of the people and their general health, hemp related supplements should line the shelves of retailers across the country and be treated the same as everything else. If Europeans, along with Americans who are producing these products, understand what can and cannot be claimed when labeling and promoting these products, and we work together on the messaging to policy makers, and more importantly the general public, we will win this battle. Truth is on our side.
HT: Who are the main customers for your in-house hemp-paper brand, TreeFreeHemp? How do you approach the sales of these products? Who are the customers and why do they buy?
MB: The majority of customers are cannabis hemp and cannabis marijuana businesses. We’re also producing materials for events and conferences, bands doing CD ecosleeves, coffee shops, eco-conscious and sustainability organizations, and specialty design and marketing companies. Most leads and customers are generated at events and through our website.
HT: How do you see the U.S. retail market taking shape?
MB: Like I mentioned before, delivery and distribution channels are part of the infrastructure development over the next 5 years. Right now the food and body-care side of hemp are the largest segments of hemp retail sales. I think this will continue and you’ll see the CBD products fall under this umbrella. It’s my opinion that the broad category of “nutritional hemp” encompasses all of these. Textiles and clothing will continue to grow, although more slowly as we will not be growing for this sector to any scale for quite some time. The infrastructure required to develop that market is a long ways off, if it ever happens. Areas where I think the U.S. will excel at in the coming years will be in building materials, composites, bio-plastics, chemical replacement and alternatives, and other high-end technical applications.