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Legalizing Industrial Hemp Farming in the U.S. Was a Brutal Fight That Cannot be Forgotten -- What Organic Brands Need to Know and the Challenges Ahead That Remain

For those of you who want a condensed TLDR version of our coverage of the Vote Hemp press conference, here is what you need to know.

* The legalization of industrial hemp farming is a monumental victory, fought for decades by committed activists who sued the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration along the way. 

* With hemp expected to be a $2.5 billion industry in the U.S. by 2022, this presents a serious opportunity for organic farmers, brands and consumers.  

* Even though the legal concern is no longer an issue, challenges remain and organic brands need to be prepared.


Over the last few years, almost every single food and beverage trend report has mentioned CBD.

And if we wait another 12 or 24 months, CBD will be in nearly every consumable or topical product that we can imagine, and it will not be long before shoppers start to assume that this powerful ingredient has just “always been there.”

If only that were the case.

On Monday in Washington, D.C., Vote Hemp, the nation’s largest grassroots hemp advocacy group, held both a media event and celebration of the decades-long fight that eventually resulted in the signing of last month’s 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp farming and removed hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp and its derivatives, such as CBD, will now be legal across the country.

“This bill constitutes a momentous victory for the movement in support of hemp farming and will have far-reaching positive impacts on rural economies and farming communities, increase the availability of sustainable products for American consumers, and create new businesses and jobs in the hemp industry, said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp.

“This monumental progress toward returning hemp to American farmland is in large part the result of Vote Hemp’s dedication and tenacious, strategic advocacy over the last 19 years,” said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s.

The ability to legally grow and conduct commerce with this plant is viewed by many as our inherent right as American citizens. Not only does hemp provide real benefit to society and the soil, but it was farmed by our country’s Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

As we witnessed on Monday, with hemp advocates having flown in from all over the country to celebrate this historic occasion, it was an emotional victory.

After all, the multi-decade fight to legalize hemp farming, which involved lawsuits against the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), put some people’s freedom in real jeopardy.

John Roulac, Founder of Nutiva and RE Botanicals, knows this all too well.

“I remember being in the hot springs one day thinking about what would happen if we didn’t win the lawsuit (against the DEA). With about 90% of my revenues coming from hemp products, it would have crushed Nutiva and we probably would have gone out of business. Or, if I kept selling hemp products, I would have been violating the Controlled Substance Act for transporting and selling thousands of pounds of a schedule 1 drug. That would have landed me in jail for a decade,” he said.

Dr. Bronner’s became one of the first body care brands to formulate with hemp seed oil in 1999 and to certify its soaps, lotions, balms, and other personal care products under the USDA National Organic Program in 2003. Both actions resulted in high-profile litigation against the DEA and USDA, which it eventually won.

For organic food brands who had nothing to do with the fight for the legalization of hemp farming, there is a key takeaway.

“Cause marketing is very popular right now, and it is almost a business imperative because consumers demand it. For Dr. Bronner’s, hemp was one of our main causes for the last 20 years. Hemp belonged in our product, and David (Bronner) put it in there to work for drug policy reform and to bring back hemp farming. Through the lawsuits and years of grassroots advocacy — which eventually led to the changing of federal legislation — we have an example of what victory looks like and what it takes to win. Most importantly, it shows that you can win,” said Ryan Fletcher, Director of Public Affairs and Media Relations at the company.

Having secured this important victory, the industry now faces a whole new set of challenges, such as:

  • Educating consumers and retailers on the benefits of hemp
  • Explaining all of the intricacies around CBD and dealing with the legal uncertainty of selling CBD products at retail
  • Creating standard testing protocols to measure THC levels
  • Getting consumers to understand the importance of organic CBD products vs. non-organic CBD
  • Dealing with a patchwork of rules and regulations because each state will now regulate hemp farming
  • Uncertainty as to how the FDA will regulate CBD because right now the agency has said that companies cannot market it as a food additive or dietary supplement.

Courtney Moran, Chief Legislative Strategist at Agricultural Hemp Solutions and a lawyer who specializes in hemp at EARTH Law, LLC, has some important advice for organic brands seeking to incorporate CBD into their products.

“Make sure that you are getting hemp from a compliant crop, which has the paperwork to prove that THC levels are 0.3% or lower. Also, I encourage people to do their own independent testing, in addition to receiving test results from farmers or handlers,” she said.

For many decades, hemp’s legal issues weighed down advocates but with that worry no longer on the table, farmers and companies can focus on reintegrating this crop back into society.

“Because of the Farm Bill, there has been a shift from legalization to implementation. Now it is civil, literally and figuratively. I am no longer worrying about whether my client is going to jail,” acknowledged Patrick Goggin, Senior Attorney at Hoban Law Group, a firm that specializes in cannabis business law.

With the Hemp Business Journal expecting the U.S. hemp market to reach $2.5 billion by 2022, the organic food and farming industries will be huge beneficiaries of this market’s growth.

And when organic hemp and CBD products are soon found everywhere, we need to acknowledge and pay a debt of gratitude to Vote Hemp, Hemp Industries Association, Dr. Bronner’s, Nutiva, Nature’s Path, Organic Consumers Association, Manitoba Harvest and many, many other hemp advocates, farmers and politicians, notably Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who made this is all possible.

(Photos by Steve Jeter, courtesy of Vote Hemp)

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

New Organic Products

New Organic Products

Biodynamic Baby Food by White Leaf Provisions

White Leaf Provisions, which makes certified organic, Demeter-certified and regeneratively-farmed food for kids, has introduced two new flavors of baby food —  Pear/Banana/Kiwi and Apple/Sweet Potato/Beet.

Chickpea Crackers by RW Garcia

As the plant-based craze continues, RW Garcia has unveiled organic chickpea crackers, which are made with black sesame seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. It is Non-GMO Project verified and is gluten-free.

New Flavors of Cold-Pressed Juice by 7-11

Further proving that the cold-pressed organic juice market is not only growing but reaching mainstream consumers, 7-11 has expanded its product line with three new flavors — melon, pomegranate and blackberry.

Want your product profiled here? Learn more

This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course

GREAT READ: The State of the Organic Industry and How Farmers are Pushing Back

By Lisa Elaine Held

An excellent read about the industry today and how some farmers are fighting for the soul of organic food.

The Produce News

Organic Now Accounts for 14% of All Produce Sales

By Tim Linden

At last month's Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, CA, Nielsen Vice President Brian Lechner said that organic represents 14% of all sales in the produce department and is outpacing conventional produce growth by a factor of five to seven times.

Supermarket News

Whole Foods Adds Digital Online Product Catalog

By Russell Redman 1

Wanting to give shoppers the ability to search online for items by dietary preference or to find product ingredient lists and nutritional information, Whole Foods has launched a digital product catalog at

Second Course

How Thrive Market Plans to Beat Amazon

By Hilary Milnes

A fascinating look at Thrive Market's strategy, and this year's objectives include figuring out its approach to offline pickups and retail store integrations.


Kroger and Microsoft Have Teamed Up to Create Futuristic Grocery Store

By Matthew Boyle and Dina Bass

In conjunction with Microsoft, Kroger is now testing out “digital shelves” which can keep track of products and help speed shoppers through the aisles. These could be rolled out to all of its 2,780 supermarkets.

Business Insider

Boll & Branch has Become the Largest Consumer of Organic Cotton in the World

By Mara Leighton

With its direct-to-consumer model, bedding company Boll & Branch has become one of the biggest viral-marketing successes of the past several years and the largest consumer of organic fair trade-certified cotton in the world.

Third Course

Unfavorable Ruling in Glyphosate Trial Against Monsanto

By Tina Bellon

A federal judge overseeing lawsuits alleging that Monsanto's Roundup causes cancer has issued a ruling that could severely restrict evidence that the plaintiffs consider crucial to their cases.

Center for Food Safety

Court Rules Iowa Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional

In a victory for free speech and animal protection, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment.


Monsanto Gets a Very Worrisome Victory in India

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav

India’s Supreme Court just ruled that Monsanto can claim patents on its GM-cotton seeds, a decision that is expected to encourage other ag-biotech companies to increase their investment in the country.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* On Living Maxwell, I wrote about Pure Rooms — an innovation for healthy travelers that I have never seen before.

* The MOSES Organic Farming Conference will be taking place from February 21-23 in La Crosse, WI.

* Wegmans will be making its entrance into the NYC market with a new location in the Brooklyn Navy Yard this fall.

* Irwin Simon, the founder and former CEO of Hain Celestial, has become chairman of embattled Canadian cannabis company Aphria.

* REBBL has launched REBBL Rejuvenation: 7 Days Of Super Herbs with Holistic Health Coach Koya Webb.

* I loved Netflix’s ‘7 Days Out’, which explores the cult of perfectionism at Eleven Madison Park — the #1 rated restaurant in the world.

* California’s monarch butterfly population has dropped 86% in one year. Very scary.

* In case you missed the most recent Organic Insider newsletter — Organic CEOs Give Their Take on 2019.

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