As legal-weed fever spreads like wildfire across North America, hemp has been gaining momentum steadily for years, despite lacking the fanfare of its intoxicating cousin.
But many people believe the hemp industry actually has greater potential for growth than marijuana, as the industrial variety of cannabis has thousands upon thousands of uses, with only a fraction of the animosity from prohibitionists and teetotalers — which puts Colleen Keahey Lanier in an exciting position as 2019 fast approaches.
Lanier is the executive director of the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), one of the leading nonprofit organizations in the cannabis industry and she sees hemp infiltrating every facet of American life from foods, beverages and wellness products to carpeting, wallpaper, building materials and biodegradable plastics.
“Hemp will penetrate many industries and will be marketed in a way that appeals to our nation’s growing demand for natural products and sustainability,” Lanier says.
Lanier joined the HIA in 2013 and, while working for Vote Hemp, contributed to the organization as a graphic designer and event organizer before being hired as executive director in January 2017.
“My goals are to strengthen the value proposition of the Hemp Industries Association through education, strategic partnerships and supporting stakeholders through marketability of hemp as a widely accepted and understood commodity,” Lanier says. “I want the HIA to have a future that will sustain itself and the industries when challenges arise.”
And anybody with experience in the cannabis industry understands this universal truth: challenges will most certainly arise. Whether they’re the ever-present challenges of farming, obstacles related to state and federal policies or the complications of working in a rapidly evolving field, uncertainty abounds in the hemp business.
One specific example of hemp’s ever-changing business landscape is the rising popularity of CBD.
Marijuana Venture: What did you do before getting into the cannabis industry?
CKL: I got a Bachelor of Arts from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The college became the first in the state to engage in the opportunity to participate in the hemp agricultural pilot program.
I worked as a legal assistant for a civil law attorney during my college years. Prior to graduation, I started working for a 501(c)6 trade association, a state affiliate to the National Rural Water Association known as the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts. Between 2007 and 2014, I served as an education administrative assistant and eventually became the managing editor of the association’s publications. In 2013 to 2014, I used vacation time from working for the water association to strategize, educate and lobby for hemp in Tennessee. The effort led to the widely-supported passage of the hemp law and a seat on the advisory committee with the Department of Agriculture.
MV: What do you enjoy the most about the cannabis industry?
CKL: It’s a disruptors’ arena, which means we get to forge new paths and innovate to make the impossible possible. We’re doing things and facing legal and regulatory challenges that no one has faced in business or politics. If you have specialized knowledge or experience from either business or nonprofit management, you can pivot to the cannabis sector and be a valuable contributor.
MV: What do you dislike?
CKL: I dislike all the con artists, fast-cash venture capitalists, self-proclaimed “experts” as well as the stereotypical counterculture and misogyny that persists.
Not only has CBD been shown to have tremendous potential as a health and wellness supplement, but it’s also gained traction among people who would never support — or participate in — the legalization of marijuana.
CBD is “the cannabinoid responsible for enlightening and converting conservatives and cannabis prohibitionists,” Lanier explains. “Hemp’s successful return to U.S. agriculture is mostly due to CBD and the desire for a hemp source as opposed to a marijuana source. It’s been very lucrative even for small companies.”
But the explosive growth of CBD manufacturers and retailers exposes the need for oversight, the importance of best practices in manufacturing and an increased emphasis on consumer safety.
“I also anticipate that the types of sources, applications, and concentrations of CBD may become more scrutinized by the federal government, similar to caffeine,” Lanier says.