0:00 | Tell us about who you and the hemp advocacy organization you founded.
Jason Amatucci, I founded the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition in 2012, and our mission basically is to get a network of hemp farmers and hemp advocates to change the laws for the Hemp Industry. You know, it was illegal here – ridiculous—for so long. And we finally, it took till 2014, we got the Farm Bill passed which allowed it for Research and Universities, and then we were like hey, Virginia, we got to get onboard with this. [The VIHC] got the laws passed and it was a privilege to write the first law, and to, huh, fight for the rights for people to grow hemp.
0:45 | Tell us about the humble beginnings of the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition?
So it was really interest, I started the coalition online, basically, and we called for a meeting and it was like three people. And the second meeting was like four. Then it was five. We kept doing the meetings and telling people to come on to educate people, basically, what’s going on what is hemp? People didn’t even know what hemp was or understand it: what is marijuana, what is cannabis, what is hemp? So we wanted to show people there’s a different non-intoxicating cannabis plant.
That is extremely valuable, that is illegal, you know, at the time. Canada has an industry, the whole world had an industry except for America. So here we are losing out. It is sustainable. It is good for the environment, so we knew we had to make a change.
1:26 | What kinds of professions/people make-up VIHC’s membership?
From students to farmers to businessmen, and to teachers, and to general advocate. They all just started to group together then all of a sudden we were right there in the middle of making the law because one of the[state] delegates, Joseph Yoast, he wanted to carry the bill and reached out to our group and said, ‘hey, you guys are leading the movement on this. So, it wasn’t all about ‘getting high and smoking marijuana,’ it was about industrial uses, and now it had turned into medicinal uses with the hemp flower.
But, yea, it was great. It was just a group of folks that came together just for the good of justice.
2:06 | What were some of the challenges getting the hemp industry up and running in Virginia?
You know, basically, this crop, this beneficial benign crop, was illegal, completely illegal; and the 2014 farm bill opened it up for research, but only for universities. So that was another hurdle that – when we first started people had to work with these universities, just to grow it. And Virginia was first saying, they didn’t even want to have private farmers to grow this crop.
And the universities were very kind of skeptical with working with different people. And all the different things that came about. Law enforcement was worried about it; they thought people were going to grow marijuana in their fields. So it was a massive education movement we had to do.
Hemp is a non-intoxicating plant, and there’s nothing to fear about it. We just wanted to normalize it. We want it like corn, soy bean, wheat; that’s where it should be; it shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, we have to wrap it all up with this red tape, and we have to constantly test it, and we have to not trust our citizens to think they’re doing something..’ It’s kind of ridiculous we can’t grow a plant—one of the most beneficial plants there is on earth.
3:06 | What’s the truth about the CBD hype?
Well, CBD is, uh—Cannabinoids have some amazing health benefits for humans. They have an endocannabinoid system in our bodies so, instead of this opioid system, and trying to treat pain with things that have adverse side effects..[CBD] is more natural with less side effects. A gentler way to ease symptoms, anxiety, pain, inflammation. CBD is wonderful. I take it daily, a lot of my friends take it and I’ve seen so many amazing stories it helping people.
First of all, it is good for people; then, of course, it is good for the economy. It’s creating jobs, especially in the time we are in now, uhm, when stores and things are dropping like flies, you know, and CBD stores are still staying open because people need their wellness products.
3:48 | Do you believe CBD is a trend that will go out of fashion?
Now people are little tired about hearing about CBD. CBD is everywhere. But, I believe that, it is just going to be a continued rise because people have just begun to try and understand it. Boomers, as people call them, or 50 plus, are just now getting comfortable with this and are just realizing now, ‘oh wow it helps with my insomnia, oh, it helps with my inflammation—it helps with my arthritis.’ So, now, they’re just discovering it. A lot of people haven’t even tried it yet. So we still have another whole world out there that might catch on to this. And once they get on it; they get off their opioids; they get off the other stuff—the pharmaceutical pills. So there is a natural shift, a natural paradigm shift for wellness products and hemp is only on thing.
4:41 | What advice would you give to someone starting a hemp business?
There’s a lot of people that want to get into the hemp business, or hemp industry. And I’ve seen a lot come and go; I’ve seen a lot of folks that, you know, they just have dollar signs in their eyes and they really don’t know what they’re doing. They’re all over the place and—they usually fail. This is not an easy business. The business itself is not easy in general. You have to have some business acumen, first of all. But, also, you have to go with ducks lined up and realize what it takes to have a successful CBD business and compete. It’s a full marketplace already. You have to have something that stands out. You have to have a good product; you have to have a safe product. That’s first and foremost, there’s a lot of stuff out there—we cannot be putting out products that have heavy metals in them, products that are not safe for people. This is a wellness product.
The industry is being very good and self-regulating. We feel that we don’t need the FDA to tell us everything and we can self-regulate as an industry –and we are. That’s supply and demand and free market capitalism. I would just say to proceed with caution. A lot of folks are diving into it head first without doing any consulting. They’re just saying, ‘well, I’m just going to go with this; I’m just going to grow some hemp, I’m going to extract, put it into a bottle I’m gunna and sell it.’
The problem is they don’t have any marketing budget. You want to be in this for the long haul? Some people are going to nickle and dime it and they’re going to get rich because, all of a sudden, people are going to fall from the sky and be banging on the door to buy their CBD; but there’s so many options out there now, that you got to stand a part. So, how do you do that? You do that with marketing, and you do that with having a better product or unique product -- maybe better absorption, better flavor..
If you buy CBD oil there should be some kind of paper trail. You need to see some tests they have determining exactly what is in it. How much CBD is in it? How much THC is in it? Is there heavy metals? How much fungus is in there? And Virginia has strict levels on all that.
6:38 | Tell us about VIHC’s next fight.
The legal definition of hemp is 0.3% THC of cannabis sativa. That is the line that has been drawn in the sand. It’s arbitrary. It doesn’t sound accurate. We’re working on, the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition, a 1%threshold, but it probably should be up to 2%, but 1% is more accurate. Basically, it’s all cannabis sativa; some is intoxicating that has THC; and same is not, that does not have THC. So hemp is non-intoxicating cannabis—clear and simple.
7:10 | Can you describe hemp’s respective by-products and how they’re grown?
The fiber and seed varieties for grain are going to grow more like a corn crop. They’re going to be growing in rows, tight together. Very tight together, and they’ll grow straight up for long fiber. Seed will be a little more spread out, you want it to goto seed and put all its energy into that. And the flower is going to be different. You're going to have to space it out –- that’s going to be grown more like marijuana.
7:33 | Why should farmers add hemp to their annual rotation?
Putting hemp into the rotation is a good thing. It has a deep taproot—it’s going to help the soil first of all. It need fertilizer, of course, but it doesn’t need the intensive fertilizer that other crops would need. So soils area big thing right now, everyone is paying attention to soils; and carbon sequestration is a big thing right now. Hemp could be doing both of those. Improve the soil and bringing carbon in into the plant, into the soils.
7:53 | Does growing for CBD have environmental benefits?
There are issues with, uhm, environmental issues with growing for CBD. There’s a lot of plastics used; it’s very water intensive. But, if you can compare it to other things, at the end of the day, it’s still going to be better than some of the other stuff we are doing.
8:13 | At the end of the day, is hemp sustainable?
But as far as hemp being sustainable: yes, definitely, it can be sustainable. And it’s one of those things that we need to start shifting this corn-soy paradigm that we have, the monopoly on that with GMO crops and heavy fertilization—heavy petroleum fertilization—into a different source, of like, enriching the soils and having hemp rotate and being more sustainable.
And everything made of plastic can be made of hemp. So, that’s a huge one right there. We should be making disposable utensils out of hemp; we should be making plastic bottles out of hemp; we should be making planes, car parts, out of hemp. We just need a little more technology, because it can degrade quicker, the reason plastics are used so much because they take so much time to degrade. It’s a double-edge sword. Then it goes in a landfill then it goes to the ocean which microplastics goes into our water source and we’re ingesting it now.
9:12 | What hurdles exist in the industry today?
We got to build the market. And I’ve met with VDACS on many occasions, years ago, and I said. ‘ we got to start now, we got to start pushing the market. We got to start educating people.’ We don’t have anything until people want to buy these products. They should be educated on why they should buy these products. Why should they build a hempcrete home; why you should have these building materials, why you should paint your wood deck with this hemp varnish; why you should feed it to your cows and your chickens and turkeys; why you should put it in your granola; why you have it in your cereals your oatmeals, right?
There needs to be an education aspect to this. I feel like it is very lacking from the Government. USDA could be doing a lot, VDACS, Virginia Department of Agriculture Consumer Sciences, could be taking the bull by the horns – but they’re not, uhm, I don’t know why.
9:54 | How can we contact and get involved with the Virginia Hemp Coalition?
VAhemp.org is our website. You can go there and be a member, buy merchandise. We got 400+ members, a great group of folks, quality folks. We have quarterly meetings. It’s basically an organization to network and, also—two-prong effect: the networking and to get the laws right. We always fight for the rights of Virginians and Americans on this Industry.
This upcoming year is very important(2020-2021), we need all the help we can get. So please, VAhemp.org. Join our coalition, check out our Facebook page, search for Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition. We do a lot of our outreach and communication on Facebook. You can keep upto date with us and look for the calls to action that we have. There’s going to be a lot to do in Virginia this year, it’s going to be a very important year.