Serving as a powerful voice for almost 30 years, the Hemp Industries Association® (HIA®) continues to be a trusted source of information and expertise on this valuable and sometimes misunderstood commodity.
Founded by hemp business owners and activists in Scottsdale, Arizona back in 1994, the HIA is a strong membership-based, non-profit trade association. Based on shared goals and the desire to establish standards for hemp-based products and the legalizing of hemp in the United States, the HIA continues to advance its mission: educating the market and advancing the hemp economy for the benefit of its members, the public, and the planet.
Despite being a valuable crop with many uses for centuries, the hemp story remains mired in misunderstandings.
Also referred to as industrial hemp, it grows much faster than most other crops and can utilize much less water. Yielding much more fiber than commercially grown cotton—which requires lots of synthetic pesticides—the hemp plant typically needs fewer, if any, herbicides. And the durability of hemp outshines many other natural fibers. With wicking and anti-bacterial properties, it’s terrific for clothing and other sustainable fabrics.
“Culturally, it was a super-useful crop, and that’s why it was such a big part of the U.S. economy,” says Jody McGinness, Executive Director. “For more than 100 years, you could pay your taxes in hemp in the United States. It was a commoditized crop that was a staple of the early American economy.”
Today, hemp applications are virtually limitless, since it can be made into healthy and environmentally friendly building materials like hempcrete building blocks and hemp insulation, as well as cosmetics, vegan dairy products, animal feed, and biodegradable and compostable hemp plastic, to name a few of its talents.
The hemp seed, long utilized for food and personal care products, is a nutritional powerhouse containing all of the essential fatty acids required for a healthy diet. Its health-promoting fats and density of minerals and vitamins have an exceptional iron and fiber content while remaining 100 percent gluten- and allergen-free. A diet including hemp has been shown to promote heart health, lower blood pressure, and have other health benefits.
The membership of the Hemp Industries Association is practically as diverse as the industry itself. Over 50 percent of members today are retailers, extractors, laboratories, and farmers involved in CBD and other cannabinoids derived from the hemp flower.
Some members are involved in food and natural products derived from hemp oil that’s extracted from hemp seeds grown for grain. Others include ancillary service providers and businesses focusing on hemp, like supply chain solution companies, credit card processing, farmers, and others in the agricultural space.
“A lot of our current members have joined for the first time in the last year,” says McGinness. “Part of that is new businesses getting started, and some of it is because of what HIA is focusing on, issues that are current and pressing to hemp, like the regulation of cannabinoids.”
Extending well beyond the United States, the HIA has members in over 15 countries, including a strong Canadian contingent, and strategic partnerships with hemp associations in New Zealand, Canada, South America, and Europe.
“International contacts and support were always a part of HIA’s meetings because what we were looking for in many cases was expertise, or the ability to understand how things are being done elsewhere, where growing hemp was legal, in order to find a path for legal hemp in the U.S.,” McGinness says.
Until around 2015/2016, there was effectively no national U.S. hemp association other than HIA. It was only with the start of legal hemp with the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states to begin growing hemp for research purposes, that other groups began to pop up.
For members of the Hemp Industries Association, one of the greatest benefits is that their involvement is welcomed—even essential to how the association functions. As a part of the HIA, members can connect to the network of decision-makers setting regulations for hemp, and thereby help shape the future of the industry.
“We are dealing with a state-by-state regulatory regime for hemp,” comments McGinness. “There’s a pressing need to stay ahead of developments to make business decisions with some sort of backup in mind.”
As a service to the industry, the HIA publishes Hemp Industry SmartBrief. A weekly hemp industry news digest, it covers industry developments impacting hemp seed, fiber, flower, and grain, along with the latest national and state policy and regulatory developments.
HIA Members receive a personalized Weekly Hemp News Digest, an algorithmically generated unique newsletter, which means every member receives stories of interest to them individually, in addition to updates to policies, HIA news, and discounts on live and virtual events.
Before COVID, in-person events were a part of the HIA’s revenue stream. The Association is planning its return to live events next year, and will be hosting its annual conference HIACon in Austin, Texas in September of 2023.
Passion for the industry
Executive Director at The Hemp Industries Association for the past two years, Jody McGinness’ background in non-profit membership organizations goes back over two decades, first as a fundraiser, later as an executive.
Along with working in public broadcasting, arts, and academia, he moved into the policy space when he took a job running fundraising for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Responsible for most state legalization campaigns, the MPP is the top U.S. organization dedicated to legalizing cannabis, initiating 14 medical cannabis laws to date. “It was a great opportunity to learn the policy space of the non-profit world,” he says.
Much of McGinness’ passion for the industry originates with a family member whose life was impacted by the injustice of the war on drugs. But what most excites him is the opportunity to be involved in re-establishing this remarkable crop in the United States, and the tremendous potential for good that can be accomplished in vital areas of human development like rural investment, nutrition, food security, and sustainability.
Fighting the battle
Before the HIA’s founding, there was the Business Alliance in Commerce and Hemp (BACH), founded by activist and author Chris Conrad, who later became the first President of the HIA.
In 1989, Conrad and his wife co-founded the American Hemp Council to educate the public on the many benefits and uses of industrial hemp and the onerous laws against the crop in the U.S.
Conrad came up with a three-step plan to achieve the legalization of hemp nationally. “Step one was to get hemp legalized,” states McGinness. “Step two was to get medical marijuana legalized nationally, and step three was full legalization. By 2014 and 2018 with legalization, activism was saying, ‘this isn’t about cannabis, but about industrial hemp.’” One of the slogans used was, “Hemp can’t get you high, it’s rope not dope.”
Describing it as a “David and Goliath moment,” the HIA took on the DEA in 2001 when it tried to schedule hemp seed and hemp oil food products even though they were without any amounts of trace THC. In March 2003, the HIA, along with the Organic Consumers Association and some hemp food and body-care businesses, “filed an urgent motion for stay in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop this.”
This led to a three-year-long battle which, in February 2004, saw the Ninth Circuit issue a unanimous decision in favor of the HIA. In the decision, Judge Betty Fletcher wrote: “[The DEA] cannot regulate naturally occurring THC not contained within or derived from marijuana; non-psychoactive hemp is not included in Schedule I. The DEA has no authority to regulate drugs that are not scheduled, and it has not followed procedures required to schedule a substance. The DEA’s definition of ‘THC’ contravenes the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and cannot be upheld.”
Making headlines across the country, the victory established the HIA and its reputation. “So it was obviously an organization that was a little bit more than your standard trade association,” says McGinness.
True believers, who thought federal policies were irrational regarding hemp, came forward.
Four years ago, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) “authorized the production of hemp and removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s schedule of Controlled Substances,” according to the USDA. “It also directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue regulations and guidance to implement a program to create a consistent regulatory framework around the production of hemp throughout the United States. The establishment of hemp as a regulated commodity also paves the way for U.S. hemp farmers to participate in other USDA farm programs.”
Interest in CBD grew, and the industry soon experienced a rapid boom and bust through oversupply.
The board of the HIA truly believed in the Association and spoke to McGinness about the opportunities in the market, realizing that this was the onset of a new national industry re-introducing the first new cash crop to America in decades.
“The choices we as an industry make now have the potential to benefit people for generations,” he says. “So it was that shared sense of wanting to use this opportunity to do good, implementing a sustainable and equitable hemp industry. I guess it’s human nature to think about an organization as sort of a static thing, but by virtue of what we do for the industry we serve, it’s constantly evolving and changing,” says McGinness when asked about the HIA’s direction in coming years.
“The mission now is to educate the market and advance the hemp economy for the benefit of our members, the public, and the planet. People are also often under the misconception that we’re monolithic because the things that happened 10 years ago are still in people’s minds. But it’s a constantly shifting cast of members who have joined, and in the hemp industry in the U.S., especially pre-2018, businesses have come and gone.”
As time passes, more and more uses for hemp are emerging, many sustainable. These include biofuels, and cellulose versions of hemp designed to replace plastic cellulose as a filler, and as plugging for leaks in oil and gas drilling. And because hemp is absorbent and hypoallergenic, it is gaining ground as a feminine hygiene product.
One of the biggest uses in the coming years will be in the food industry. Extremely nutritious, hemp is bursting with essential amino acids and vitamins and has more protein than chicken, beef, or fish. Owing to its moisture-retaining properties, it is likely hemp will become a staple of vegan burgers and other plant-based food products.
“The HIA has been the beating heart of the hemp industry for 30 years, and we welcome any questions to help people better understand this remarkable plant and its potential, so we invite anyone interested to reach out.”