Marijuana Business Magazine September 2018

COLUMN: HEMP NOTEBOOK H emp is in an economic fast lane, with new ventures start- ing every day and hemp entre- preneurs signing ever-larger expan- sion deals and global partnerships. So, it may seem odd to say those modern entrepreneurs should stop and think about 19th-century railroads. But today’s hemp industry sho uld borrow a practice from the past. That’s because those railroad mag- nates faced a problem that will sound familiar to today’s cannabis maver- icks: The railroads had a new technol- ogy that offered society-changing benefits, combined with insatiable market demand for their products. But they also had technical glitches and inferior steel that would fre- quently break or buckle. The railroad industry knew the breaks could derail the whole indus- try and sour the promise of a new technology. Rail executives also knew that if they didn’t act quickly, their growing industry wouldn’t survive. Their own engineers could solve the problem better than a bunch of politicians, who would inevitably step in to “help” by writing regulations. The result was the American Soci- ety for Testing Materials, today called ASTM International. Started in 1898 by an engineer for the Pennsylvania Kristen Nichols Railroad Inspiration Why the hemp industry should act like 19th-century rail magnates and write production standards before the feds do it By Kristen Nichols Railroad, the organization brings together the brightest minds in technical industries to set voluntary standards designed to ensure new technologies are safe. ASTM International doesn’t write laws or regulations; its members write the standards that eventually become laws and regulations. Now ASTM is looking at cannabis – everything from extraction equip- ment specifications to a unified lab- testing regime to a grading standard for dried flower (similar to USDA grades for beef). It’s fascinating work, and it will lay the groundwork for global cannabis standards as the plant moves out of the black market and beyond its current patchwork of state-by-state rules and regulations. Such work is even more pressing for the hemp industry. That’s because the prospect of nonexpert politicians deciding the rules for hemp is just as imminent today as it was for the owner of an 1890s railroad. The U.S. Food and Drug Adminis- tration has approved a CBD treat- ment and written a stern letter to the CBD industry, telling executives how medicine is supposed to be made. At the same time, states and even counties and cities are writing their own rules for CBD and how it should be made and sold. A CBD tincture that’s perfectly legal in Colorado may not meet the same standards as one made in Oregon. Amid this regulatory confusion, copycat CBD products and supple- ments containing erroneous labels are flooding the market. This confusion gets even worse as hemp goes global, with differ- en t countries setting their own re gulations. It’s a situation everyone knows won’t last. Rules are coming, hemp entrepreneurs frequently tell me. And if the industry doesn’t write them, someone else will – probably someone who doesn’t know much about hemp. So why aren’t more hemp entre- preneurs volunteering to help write ASTM standards? It’s simple: They’re all busy building their businesses. But if rival railroad companies with limited communication options could get together in the 1890s to set steel standards, there’s no reason today’s hemp entrepreneurs can’t craft CBD standards that will inform federal regulators for years to come. Here’s hoping the hemp industry learns from the railroad industry and gets hemp back on track. ◆ Kristen Nichols covers hemp for Marijuana Business Magazine. Reach her at . 34 • Marijuana Business Magazine • September 2018