Analysis

Job One: Seize the Media High Ground

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Zuckerman’s friend Gus, from out there in the middle of the Big Middle, doesn’t care much for those old copperheads abusing hemp’s good image to peddle their penny stocks. You know: the modern-day boiler-room hucksters who “employ the latest technology” to spread their cheerful, empty, poorly written press releases throughout the cyber universe. The stock “pumpers and dumpers,” as Gus refers to them.

“They suck up way too much oxygen in the media space,” says Gus, identifying just one of the challenges in the ongoing industrial hemp revolution. Add to that the entrenched view that “hemp” means “pot” among the bumpkins in some of our state legislatures, and the PR task looks daunting. But it should be Job One because, let’s face it, we live in a media-first world.

Get a voice

The industry needs a bigger, more-unified voice that reflects the science, innovation and entrepreneurship that are too quietly taking place among the more-forward-looking farmers, researchers and businesses out there tilling the field, so to speak. That’ll create more cohesion among the legitimate players for knowledge sharing, networking and business deals.

The flip side is the hemp industry’s broader image among the public and lawmakers. The nascent, well-meaning hemp lobby is obviously working at the disadvantage of being underfunded and is therefore weak. Just consider a recent GovTrack.us analysis showing the two main hemp bills now in Congress — S. 134 and HB 525 — each with a 1% chance of passage based on the general numbskullery of our elected federal leaders.

George & Henry: Who cares?

They don’t care if George Washington grew hemp or that Henry Ford made a car from hemp-based plastic and ran it on hemp oil — or that the government itself promoted hemp as an industrial crop for war materials in the last century. To them, it’s all scary hippy-dippy — even if the hippies were right about industrial hemp all along. Throw in the competing lobbies for petrochemicals, mega-pharma and the chemical-laden building industry, and getting hemp its rightful seat at the table begins to look downright impossible.

Even Mitch is a backer

But let’s look at a few interesting signals on the upside: That old fossil Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Big R from Kentucky, is a backer, while his Bluegrass State joins 12 others that have local laws establishing commercial industrial-hemp programs. Meanwhile, an additional seven states have passed legislation setting up limited growing programs for research.

Beyond foods and body care

The hemp foods and body care markets alone were estimated at $620 million in 2014 — up 21% from the year previous. And this doesn’t reflect the potential in building materials and biocomposites, both of which will surpass foods and body care in light of their potential to help reach federal carbon-reduction goals . . . and move into broad mainstream application.

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