COLORADO SPRINGS — Hemp is a notoriously versatile plant whose uses run the gamut from paper to clothing to building materials to CBD tinctures, but the companies that have built the diverse industry over the past decade or so too often operate in individual silos rather than join forces to collectively push the sector into the future.
Industry unity, necessary to overcome marketplace and regulatory challenges, was a common theme among the speakers Wednesday at the annual NoCo Hemp Expo held at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs.
The expo, organized by hemp advocacy group We Are For Better Alternatives and now in its ninth year, was born in Loveland, but has since outgrown its Northern Colorado roots, moving in recent years to larger venues along the Front Range.
The event provides “an amazing opportunity to showcase” the “immense potential of hemp” that goes “far beyond CBD,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a video message to conference attendees.
Panels and speakers Wednesday, the kick off of the three-day expo, focused on policy and advocacy issues and the need for greater industry-wide cooperation.
“There’s a heavy burden on us as industry leaders to define what the industry is and what it looks like going forward,” said Robert Hoban, a hemp industry-centric attorney with Clark Hill PLC, but frequently sector leaders “dig moats between ourselves instead of building bridges.”
Despite the fact that their products are derived from the same plant species, hemp companies with industrial focuses often work at cross purposes with their peers in the hemp-health sphere, and vice versa, when it comes to policy advocacy and messaging, experts said.
Collaboration is particularly critical in the still relatively young industry that mostly operated in the shadows prior to passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which established the nationwide framework for hemp commerce.
Speaking in a singular voice is key for an industry still striving to “normalize something that’s been so stigmatized for so long,” Hoban said.
Regulators and lawmakers may have short attention spans and little understanding of hemp, so industry advocates must craft a “unified message,” or else risk overwhelming and confusing the people whose hands are on the levers of power, said Joy Beckerman, founder of industry consulting firm Hemp Ace International.
Colorado, a pioneering state in terms of the embrace of cannabis, can serve as an example for the hemp and marijuana industries in the United States and around the world, where stringent regulatory barriers remain commonplace, expo speakers said.
“Our governor (Polis) has been the biggest champion of cannabis and hemp out of every politician in the country,” NoCo Hemp Expo organizer and We Are For Better Alternatives founder Morris Beegle said.
Despite hemp’s success in Northern Colorado and around the Centennial State, “we know that we can do better” in terms of modeling a healthy and diverse industry for the rest of the world, Polis said.