Our diligent work to persuade legislators to pass pro-industrial hemp legislation paid off this year. With the signing of Act 92, properly registered Pennsylvanians are now able to grow, cultivate, and/or market industrial hemp within the confines of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill.
What may come as a surprise, to some of you, is that growing/ cultivating industrial hemp might be the easy part. Marketing industrial hemp—specifically hemp products intended for human consumption—is a challenge that we are only beginning to address.
Note: Hemp farmers, there is nothing easy about your job. Without your efforts, marketers would be pushing cotton products!
The passage of Act 92 and others like it throughout the United States represents our society’s growing demand for socially responsible legislative frameworks. Every day we are exposed to new information that supports industrial hemp cultivation. Whether it is hemp’s positive environmental impact or its extensive industrial applications, the proven benefits of hemp are helping to remove decades old “blindfolds” from the unknowing or disinterested private and public sectors.
Proving industrial hemp’s viability as a replacement for petroleum based plastics or non-renewable fuel for automobiles is simple. Researchers and developers create plastics and fuels from industrial hemp, apply them in real life situations, and if they work—you have a product that is ready for market.
However, while it is legal to create hemp products for human consumption, it is challenging for marketers to express the true health benefits of these products. Marketers may discuss hemp’s healthy nutrients, proteins, and vitamins, but may not make claims about the health/medical efficacy of hemp’s non-psychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD).
This challenge is the direct result of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) position on CBD. Because CBD is not approved by the FDA as a drug, marketers of any product designed to deliver CBD to the consumer must tiptoe around the language they use to express its health benefits.
For example, we may not say, “ Hemp oil, rich in CBD, can cure cancer.” But we can say, “ Hemp oil, rich in cannabinoids, can improve your quality of life.” Granted, CBD is not guaranteed to cure cancer but neither are the various man-made medications that your doctor could prescribe.
By saying, “improve your quality of life”, marketers are trying to appeal to your desire to feel better, without referencing the specific disease or condition you might be treating.
You might also notice that we substitute the word “cannabinoids” for the acronym “CBD” in the example. This is to further protect the company or product from violating the FDA position. While this substitution functions as a protection from violating FDA policies, it can dangerously confuse the consumer—(which inherently violates Federal Trade Commission advertising guidelines).
Despite the copious amounts of anecdotal evidence suggesting CBD products can treat, cure, or mitigate diseases and medical conditions, the FDA prohibits marketers of these products from referencing these successes (as a result of using CBD hemp products).
Think about it this way: Make fuel from hemp that can power your car— you can call it fuel. Make hemp products rich in CBD that actually fight disease and medical conditions—you cannot call it medicine nor explain how it works.
Regardless of the current landscape surrounding the marketing of hemp and hemp products, we will continue to find creative ways to provide evidence of hemp’s potential to exist as a societal panacea. Just as our diligence paid off with the passage of Act 92, it will eventually payoff by removing the blindfolds from the eyes of hemp’s critics. In the meantime, let’s hope those blindfolds are at least made of hemp.
Lane Radbill is a Pennsylvania native who currently works as an independent marketing, branding and communications consultant in the cannabis industry. He has worked with leading cannabis companies and organizations to mold pro-cannabis legislation and public perception. Lane is a regular contributor to the cannabis themed publications Herb and Dope.