Q & A With Humboldt Hemp Advocate and Entrepreneur, Anna Owen
With all the attention on cannabis these days, some may overlook the low THC seed and fiber crop varieties commonly known as hemp. In fact, there is a lot of confusion around what hemp is, how it can be used, and what role, if any, hemp can play in our local Humboldt scene. To gain some insight and understanding, I spoke with Anna Owen, sole proprietor of Redwood Hemp – a local organization which organized the “cannabis stalk” drives at events such as the 2015 Hempfest. She’s also a grassroots organizer for the national Hemp History Week, and volunteers with Hempstead Project HEART (founded by John Trudell) – a group currently working with Hemp Production Services, a Canada-based hemp food distribution company.
Tell us how you became the local hemp advocate lady in Humboldt County?
I have been collaborating with various groups of people for the last six years to bring back hemp farming. I began at Humboldt State University as a student in the Environment and Community Program, and became very concerned about the ecology of our planet, and also, about social justice and the rights of people, specifically land-based communities. I learned about hemp through various workshops and events. I was blown away to find out that hemp is one of the healthiest foods that we could be eating, and that hemp could replace a lot of our petro-chemical, as well as timber-based materials, as a renewable resource. From that point, I became obsessed.
How is “hemp” different from the cannabis we smoke?
Hemp has very low THC, 0.3% or less according to industry standards. There is more opium in your poppy-seed muffin than there is THC in hemp. It is the same species as the cannabis Sativa that you smoke, ingest, or use topically, but it is a different variety. Think of it like different types of corn, like sweet corn and field corn. Some corn is grown for us to eat and some is grown for livestock. They are both corn but with different purposes. Hemp is to be processed into different products, such as textiles, paper, body care products, and food products such as protein powders, hemp seeds and oil. Essentially, hemp is an oil, seed [and] fiber crop. There are also some hemp varieties of cannabis that are grown for their high CBD medicinal uses.
What are the current legal issues concerning hemp cultivation?
While nationally banned for commercial production in the United States, The Farm Bill has allowed 27+ state governments to vote ‘yes’ on allowing pilot programs to operate; these states include Kentucky, Indiana, Hawaii , Tennessee, and Vermont. The good news is that hemp is gaining traction for the first time since 1957, but it is all through research programs, mostly [conducted by] universities and state departments of agriculture. Colorado is the one exception as it is the one state [that issues] commercial licenses to farm hemp. Hopefully Cali will get on board soon.
If medical\recreational cannabis becomes legal in Cali later this year, will that also make hemp legal?
No, in this case hemp got the short end of the stick, or, stalk. Legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis will NOT necessarily also legalize hemp, since it is not included in the language. To clarify: legalization will make THC-laden varieties of cannabis legal but THC-free hemp grown for fiber, grain, and seed, will remain in a grey area.
That seems a little backwards – the variety that gets you high will become legal but the variety that won’t get you high is also not being considered for legalization at the same time?
Yea it is crazy; the hemp movement is struggling [in comparison] to the medicinal marijuana movement. But I don’t think there is an active conspiracy to put hemp down – I think a lot of it is to get the economic, farming, and manufacturing infrastructure in place for this industry to move forward.
What does Redwood Hemp do?
Redwood Hemp collects cannabis stalk, the remaining stalks from local cannabis grows, to do research about the usefulness of this often-discarded resource. While not collecting currently, Redwood Hemp has [so far] collected a quarter ton of material, some of which has been used to make experimental “canacrete” bricks (alternative to hempcrete), soil amendments, compost and mulch. There is research for the resource as a potential paper sources. Some has been inoculated with various mushrooms.
What are your visions for hemp here in Humboldt County?
I am very careful when addressing this topic and I try to keep an open mind, as there is still a lot to figure out…. I am not advocating for hemp [to be] grown locally at this time. I am just advocating that we learn more about it and work to become an all-encompassing cannabis movement. Because we do not have a lot of flat farmland available, and because hemp takes up so much space, I am not sure I see a future for large scale industrial hemp farms in Humboldt County, except maybe in certain little pockets if it’s properly zoned.
The pollen is another issue, and therefore why zoning is important. Because of the high concentrate of THC flower cannabis grown here, there is a concern that male hemp pollen will contaminate the cannabis buds-to-be. It has been said that if you keep the hemp farm at least three miles from any other grows, you should be OK, but this needs more research and could be a point of contention as it was in southern Oregon. Sweet corn and corn for animal feed is a good example of managing cross-pollination. Both are wind-pollinated crops that require ¼ acre distances. Again, this needs more research.
To read the full interview, visit Humboldtunderground.com