The Fourth of July is around the corner and industrial hemp is the conversation on everyone’s tongue.
Ushering in a New Era for Hemp
The sun poured over the nearby hills and in through the tall glass windows, illuminating the buzzing activity in the lobby at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator in Binghamton, NY on this unusual morning. It wasn’t the crisp, refreshing overtone of entrepreneurial spirit that stood this particular morning apart from all the others as one walked into the lobby. No: that was a familiar mood for the usual crowd at the Incubator. It was the small but growing crowd of professionals setting up booths in preparation for what would undoubtedly be a historic day for all who would attend the Southern Tier Hemp Summit that were cause for the excitement.
Industry leaders from all over the country arrived to find themselves as impressed with the layout of the event space as they already were with the professional demeanor of the young man who organized the Summit, Kaelan Castetter. Unlike most 22 year old entrepreneurs, Kaelan has already made a significant impact politically in his young career by not only fighting to get the first hemp-alcohol product approved on a state level, but by also working with legislators to sculpt policy for hemp in New York so as to provide the best impetus for the farmers to have success and growth across the board. While the latter feat might intuitively seem commonplace among states legalizing hemp for research and industrial purposes, such has not always been the case. In fact, the political soil has only truly been as fertile thus far in Colorado as it now is in the Empire State. Some states have had their growth stunted over legislative imperfections or lack of support from local and state politicians, while other states like South Dakota and Washington have dropped the ball completely due to Canadian lobbying efforts (often from unregistered lobbyists) interfering with policy. “Assemblywoman Lupardo is the real champion for the hemp industry in New York State” Kaelan humbly commented in between moderating panels at the summit; “she has been writing and introducing legislation that established our industrial hemp program since the beginning and deserves the spotlight; I have to give credit where credit is due”.
Supporting the charge led by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo in his home state for an “industrial hemp revolution” armed with the most industry-friendly legislation in the country and then proceeding to operate one business successfully, a hemp-wine company called Sovereign Vines, has only been the beginning for Kaelan’s contributions to local economic revitalization. He incorporated Castetter Sustainability Group just under a year ago with the intention of helping farmers and entrepreneurs alike to, literally and figuratively, plant their seeds as well. “Our goal as a company and a family is to empower farmers and their rural communities while we also work with businesses to enrich the local economy through the cultivation, processing, manufacturing, and selling of hemp goods”, he told me as I tried his exquisite wine for the first time at the Sovereign Vines sampling table. While this new endeavor of his is proving to be largely successful right out of the gate, the pinnacle of his achievements in his short time with CSG is undoubtedly hosting what is arguably the best exposition in the recent history of hemp: particularly in terms of the expertise displayed by his selection of well-vetted panel speakers.
The four panel topics discussed by the colorful variety of experts were ‘Food, Fiber, and Futures’, CBD, Agriculture, and Policy. Since CSG brought in a professional production crew to live stream and record the discussions, they are not worth summarizing here (although I highly recommend watching!). What is worth making note of was the sense of community from the audience and attendees. For those unfamiliar with attending hemp-related events, this is very uncommon. Usually, there is an unspoken but omnipresent competitive edge that would make your dog’s ears perk. You are never sure who is smiling to your face but waiting to stab you in the back, there are few honest conversations to be had, and everyone feels as though they have to protect their “secret sauce.” Essentially, it feels like being in the middle of an industrial scale competition for who has the biggest you-know-what. It is precisely this selfish, greedy, and immature attitude that has plagued the hemp industry in Colorado (with other states following suit).
We all understand the need to protect ourselves in business, but the industry is digging its own hole and will be sealing its fate if we don’t collectively change the way we interact. The threats that we face are not each other. Keep in mind: the industrial hemp revolution is taking place on many battlefields. We are fighting a legal battle that has deprived freedoms which our Founding Fathers likely never thought would come under attack, and that is before delving into those of us who have been wrongfully incarcerated for this plant. We are fighting a public opinion battle that has been taking place since the 1930’s with a propaganda war against Cannabis; the stigma based on lies has persisted for a century. We are fighting legislative battles on the state and federal level where special interest groups and lobbying efforts (again, by unregistered lobbyists) are interfering with policy to suit their own interests rather than allowing policy to emphasize and bolster the American farmer, American businesses, or the American patients that need more options when it comes to natural and/or preventative medicine.
We are battling Big Agriculture and Big Pharma who have access to virtually unlimited monetary resources and an alarming and unsurpassed influence within our government. Monsanto, who has bankrupted American farmers and monopolized the majority of our food production while poisoning our land, and Bayer, the largest pharmaceutical organization in the world, are now set to merge (yes, really). The word on the street is that they have already collectively initiated covert efforts to infiltrate and undermine the progress we have fought so hard to make, only to position themselves to dominate this industry as it comes out from underground. Lastly, we are at odds with the oil industries who contributed to the criminalization of cannabis a century ago to prevent the bio-fuel industry from legally being able to compete with them in the market, and who still have a monopoly through regulations on petro-fuels that can be sold on the market today.
Castsetter Sustainability Group Website of the hosts.