By Michael Hughes
The hot Nebraska wind blew across the plains and shook the tall green corn. A 12-year-old kid with shaggy brown hair, wearing a mesh ball cap and a pair of bib overalls stood staring at a large patch of hemp. He was amazed at how a few of the plants towered over the tall corn. The female flowers were growing more every day and most of the males had released their pollen.
Soon, all the flowers would be full of seeds. The young kid had been riding his bike to check out this patch several times a week. The young kid had been doing this for many summers on his family farm. He loved studying and watching these plants grow.
Ever since he had been a very small boy, he had questioned his grandparents about this plant that seemed to grow everywhere in the area. Both his grandparents told him about the plant and how their families used to farm it.
They tried to explain to the boy that the government made it illegal to grow because it was too much like marijuana. That did not make much sense to the boy, because most young farm kids from the area, even in the early 1980s, understood that none of the “ditch weed” was going to get anyone high.
As the boy stood there staring at the hemp patch next to the field of corn, he thought about his future. Like most kids in the area, he dreamed of being a farmer like his grandfathers and their fathers and grandfathers. The boy dreamed of growing hemp.
Those hot summer days seem so distant. However, more than 30 years later, I feel just as excited now as I did when I was a child wondering about those giant hemp plants. My early fascination with the hemp plant has led me on a lifetime of journeys through the wild world of cannabis. I have been very secretive about most of my cannabis-related activities for my entire adult life. Cannabis use is still illegal and growing cannabis is a serious crime in many places. Most people who have studied and researched cannabis production and distribution in the United States over the last 25 years have done so at great peril and rarely speak openly about it. This would be especially true of someone who wanted to practice law.
One of the main factors that led to my decision to leave Nebraska and attend Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa was its Agricultural Law Program. It was the best in the country. I envisioned a day when cannabis would be legal. Not just hemp, but all cannabis. I wanted to represent cannabis farmers. I wanted them to be just like any other farmers. This is the vision I’ve had since I was a kid and stood gawking at hemp plants.
Fifteen years of practicing law went by very quickly. I have represented thousands of clients on criminal and civil matters. I have tried and won many jury trials. In 2006, I attended Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyers College. There I met Omar Figueroa, a tremendous criminal defense lawyer from California who specializes in cannabis law. Meeting Omar made me realize that there were places in the United States that were safe-havens for serious cannabis production research.
I relocated to the West Coast in early 2011 and was in Oregon by 2012. I have been entirely focused on cannabis law, cannabis production and cannabis distribution since that time. I have been fortunate to have met and worked with some of the best legal and production minds in the cannabis industry. I currently represent people and businesses at every level of this industry, including dispensary owners, edible makers, extractors and producers. As a breeder, I am just beginning a project involving eight different hemp phenotypes. I also have five phenotypes of medical cannabis I’ve bred hoping to produce a strain that is helpful for people with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD.
Often, I have to pinch myself. My mind wanders to my childhood and the giant feral hemp plants. They seem another world away from the Cascade Mountains that I now stare at out my office window in downtown Bend, Oregon. In addition to my cannabis industry clients, I still am actively involved in the “war.” In late March, I will travel to western Minnesota to represent Angela Brown as her case goes to trial. My book, “High Way” is dangerously close to being completed. It is the first book in a trilogy about a farm kid from Nebraska who becomes a pot grower, attends law school and goes on to a career as a trial lawyer. I have been piecing it together for the last three years. Sometimes my practice seems a little crazy, but the truth is, I am living the dream.
Michael Hughes is a seasoned trial lawyer with more than 15 years of experience. His law firm, The Hughes Companies, represents businesses in all facets of the cannabis industry.