NHA was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Jen Hobbs, Author of “American Hemp: How Growing Our Newest Cash Crop Can Improve Our Health, Clean Our Environment, and Slow Climate Change ”
Filled with catchall research, American Hemp examines what this new domestic crop can be used for, what makes it a superior product, and what made it illegal in the first place; the book also delves into the many health and medical benefits of the plant. Hobbs weighs in on how hemp can improve existing industries, from farming to energy to 3D printing, plus how it can make a serious impact on climate change by removing toxins from the soil and by decreasing our dependence on plastics and fossil fuels.
American Hemp lays out where we are as a nation on expanding this entirely new (yet ancient) domestic industry while optimistically reasoning that by sowing hemp, we can grow a better future and save the planet in the process.
NHA: What influenced you to write about cannabis?
Jen Hobbs: My husband is a medical marijuana patient. One of the reasons we moved to California after our daughter was born was so he could have legal access to cannabis (and we eventually wound up growing our own). I realize that moving across the country isn’t an option for a lot of people, and quite frankly, that shouldn’t be the answer, but we had the opportunity to move, so we did. I didn’t want our daughter to grow up thinking her father was breaking the law every time he used his medication. When Jesse Ventura and I teamed up to write “Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto” in 2015, this was my motivation. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right that people can legally access medical marijuana in one state while others risk being charged with a crime for doing the exact same thing in another part of the country. The main point of the book was to debunk the misconceptions surrounding cannabis, and we did this by relying primarily on scientific research studies. It was an empowering feeling to compile all that information and put it out there, and it felt even better to learn that the book helped educate people on what cannabis really is.
NHA: How is this book different from the one you wrote with Jesse Ventura?
Jen Hobbs: “Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto” focuses primarily on marijuana. We didn’t want to lump everything about hemp into a book that had “marijuana manifesto” in the title, plus to cover both plants with equal detail would’ve easily doubled the length of the book. We had one chapter on hemp (which served as a cliff notes version of hemp history and hemp’s benefits), plus a few hemp recipes, and we were thrilled to hear from people all over the country about how that one chapter was particularly compelling and presented a strong case for legalization. Most people who read the book didn’t know all of hemp’s benefits (such as phytoremediation), so I spent the next two years pressing the publisher on writing a separate book just on hemp, and eventually Skyhorse agreed. The initial concept for “American Hemp” was to write a paperback guide that outlined what a fully legal, domestic hemp industry could achieve, aside from the obvious economic benefits such as a new (and greatly needed) crop for farmers and new jobs. Once the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, the book kept getting bigger. I wasn’t writing what was possible in theory, I was writing what would soon be a reality, such as taking the “waste” product left over from CBD extraction and creating biodegradable plastics or a biomass energy source for electricity. When the time had come to hand in the manuscript, I found that I had surpassed my agreed upon word count by more than 30,000 words! Even so, there are topics I didn’t get around to fully addressing, and some not in enough detail (in my opinion), so I’m hoping at the very least, “American Hemp” can be a springboard into a further discussion on what this new (yet ancient) domestic product can do!
NHA: What was your initial reaction when you found out how diverse hemp is?
Jen Hobbs: A mix of emotions. I was shocked and inspired by all of its uses, but frustrated and disappointed in the laws that have kept it illegal for generations. I thought about what could’ve been accomplished economically, environmentally, and so forth if we had an American hemp industry all along. The fact that federal government touted hemp’s value when we needed it for fiber in World War II, but then classified it as a schedule 1 narcotic (no different than marijuana), is truly maddening. Here we are, more than 70 years after WWII, and we’re now finally able to grow hemp as an agricultural commodity. Yet during the war (as I’m sure you know), the USDA helped farmers grow it, factories were built with government-backed loans specifically to process it, and members of Congress openly acknowledged that we wouldn’t have the war without it (those politicians are quoted in my book). Overall, I don’t want us to forget the past — which is why I devoted a few chapters of “American Hemp” to our history with hemp — but at the same time, I want to move forward optimistically and focus on what we can accomplish. I dedicated the book to my daughter because I believe that when hemp is used to its full potential, we can create a better world for her generation and the generations that follow. That’s actually the first thought that occured to me when I pieced together all of hemp’s benefits (which is why I was so inspired by this plant).
NHA: How beneficial is hemp to the United States of America?
Jen Hobbs: If our government doesn’t find a way to ruin this, then hemp will the biggest potential for economic growth since the Internet. That’s a little tongue and cheek about the government, but seriously this could be an issue. Governor Kristi Noem recently vetoed a bill to legalize hemp production in South Dakota, even though her own party can officially take credit for federally legalizing hemp (via Mitch McConnell/Farm Bill and President Trump signing it into law). Not only is she going against her party, but by proxy, she’s going against all the benefits of American hemp, including bringing manufacturing jobs back to the states, new jobs to the midwest — like, you know, the general region of the country where South Dakota is located. Domestic hemp can create new industries and expand existing ones, and the best comparison I can make is to the Internet — something everyone saw value in but had no idea how much value. Who could’ve predicted the degree to which it is now in our everyday lives — and I can see the same happen with CBD, hemp nutrition/food products, and every other known application (and those that have yet to be discovered). There’s a generational divide between Americans who were born prior to Internet and those who’ve never lived without it. We’re seeing history in the making; there’s a generation being born right now in the United States that will live in a world where hemp has always been legal — at least to their knowledge. I sincerely hope this generation won’t be able to imagine a world without the benefits of hemp so that it will never become illegal again.
NHA: What part of the plant would you use the most and why?
Jen Hobbs: One tip I mention in the book is that if you’re looking to support the hemp industry but aren’t able to attend in-person advocacy events to voice your support, then simply choosing to purchase hemp products is one of the easiest ways to get involved and contribute to the industry’s success. The more demand for hemp, the better. Currently, I use hemp-based skincare products, hemp food, and CBD flower. I seek out hemp skincare products to support the industry, but I’ve also found the quality is generally much better than anything else. Recently, it’s getting a lot easier to find them. I just discovered a whole line of shampoo/conditioner, body wash, and lotion in my local supermarket (and they smell fantastic). Plus, I know hemp skincare products are typically cruelty free, paraben free, all natural, and so on. I also feel good knowing some of these products are now made in the U.S.A. and I’m supporting local businesses (or at least state-side businesses) when I choose to purchase them. I also eat hemp seed and hemp protein powder on a daily basis. Even though my husband and I have always incorporated meat in just about every meal, our daughter doesn’t like eating meat at all, so to make sure she’s getting enough protein and other nutrients, I make smoothies with her and put hemp seeds and hemp protein powder in them. I also use CBD flower occasionally for sore muscles and back pain. I like that it relieves muscle tension the same way marijuana does but without the high.
NHA: What do you predict for the US with the latest agricultural commodity addition?
Jen Hobbs: I think hemp-derived CBD has the biggest, immediate potential to boost our economy by creating new industries and expanding existing ones, but that’s just a fraction of what the plant can bring to us. With the amount of money that can be generated from CBD, we might find that we have to incentivise farmers to grow other crops! Domestic hemp means the raw materials are already here in the United States, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many companies work towards vertical integration (especially with CBD) to capitalize on all opportunities, from producing certified seed to extracting to converting the crop’s remaining biomass to compost/green manure and other uses. Plus, many American researchers and scientists went to Israel to conduct studies with cannabis. Now that CBD-hemp is no longer a schedule 1 narcotic, they could potentially come back into the country and start their own FDA-approved CBD studies and therefore put the United States at the forefront of medical research and development.
NHA: What do you hope that your readers will gain from this book?
Jen Hobbs: That prohibition only hurts our country. If we recognize our past mistakes, we won’t repeat them. Many industries once felt threatened by hemp and viewed it as competition. But today’s industries are embracing it as a way to broaden their product line, improve their businesses and reach more customers. Pharmaceutical companies have integrated CBD (and THC) into medications. Toyota has integrated hemp into the body panels of the 718 Caymen GT4 race car to reduce the environmental impact of carbonfiber. And really, lessening our environmental impact is the core theme of the book. When we choose hemp over synthetic chemicals like carbonfiber, we can decrease pollution drastically. Hemp produces more oxygen than trees as it grows. It can also be used to remove lead and other heavy metals/toxins from the soil and water. This means that technically we can improve the environment by simply growing hemp. Growing hemp alone will make a difference. The stereotype has always been that environmental law is bad for big business because it affects profitability. For instance, when factories have to be brought up to EPA emissions codes so that toxins aren’t spewing into the air or leaching into the soil and spreading irreversible harm to local residents and wildlife, those updates cut into profit margins. But, as I explain in the book with many specific examples, profitable businesses can have a safety first, environmental approach if hemp is incorporated. The process to create products from hemp requires less harmful chemicals, and many products are biodegradable. When corporations simply incorporate hemp into a product, like Toyota is doing, an immediate impact is made. Plus, consumers like to know they’re buying a product that is better for the environment because that means they’re contributing to making a difference too.
NHA: What’s next for you? Other than the book, are you involved expanding the hemp industry?
Jen Hobbs: For now, I hope the book will help clear up any misconceptions about hemp. I’ve been fascinated by the crop for quite some time. If I’m playing favorites, I’ve always favored it over marijuana due to all of its uses and benefits. After co-writing “Jesse Ventura’s Marijuana Manifesto,” I felt that I needed to write a book about hemp to really voice my enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm grew even more by writing “American Hemp.” While I was typing away, my husband was growing medical marijuana in California, and I kept thinking what we really needed to do was figure out a way to grow hemp. When we moved from California to the St. Louis area last year to be near family, we had no idea that this could actually become a reality. Since Missouri didn’t have a hemp pilot program previously, the state is now looking to greenlighting the industry with a fairly broad stroke. If all goes well, we’re planning on opening Rolling Meadows, a CBD extraction facility, in Missouri this summer. My husband also developed a patented rolling paper called Spaced Cowboys – they’re the first and only rolling paper with an organic beeswax tip – and they’re getting some attention online, especially now that they can be pre-rolled with CBD flower. A wholesaler in Warrenton Missouri called Hemp CBD Superstore just agreed to distribute Spaced Cowboys, so overall, we’re both getting involved locally as much as we can and doing what we can to advocate for this amazing agricultural commodity.
~Interview by NHA Assist. Executive Director, Anna Chanthavongseng