Hemp company to open Spokane office

Firm hopes U.S. will remove label of classified substance, cites widespread use in Canada

Meghann M. Cuniff/Staff writer
Spokesman Review

A company that distributes hemp products and hopes to spread knowledge about the benefits of industrial hemp is opening a branch in Spokane .

The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based U.S. Hemp Co. has leased space in the Spokane Business and Industrial Park and will begin distributing clothes and other hemp products from there in January.

The move is partly a result of the affordability of the 20-cents-per-square-foot industrial space and of Spokane ‘s proximity to Canada , a major producer of hemp, company President Aaron Carvajal said. But Carvajal said the move is also a major part of the company’s effort to spread knowledge of the hemp fiber’s beneficial qualities.

“The ultimate goal is to educate the general population enough so that the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency) can no longer claim that hemp is marijuana,” Carvajal said.

Hemp comes from the stems and stalks of the cannabis plant, whereas marijuana is the plant’s flower. Plants must be grown tall to produce hemp, and that results in a type of cross contamination that Carvajal said reduces the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp contains extremely low levels of THC, thus smoking it does not produce the high that smoking marijuana does.

It’s been illegal to grow hemp in the United States since 1970. The DEA classifies hemp as a controlled substance, though it is not illegal to possess hemp products.

The hemp industry is experiencing considerable growth, with hemp food- and beauty- product sales increasing by 50 percent during the last year, according to the Hemp Industries Association. Canada allows the production of industrial hemp, and Canadian farmers report stellar increases in production and profits from their hemp plants, according to the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance.

Hemp fiber can be used to make clothes, paper and other textiles, and hemp seeds can be used in foods or crushed to produce fuel. Hemp is considered to be one of the strongest fibers in the world and can last much longer than cotton or other fibers. Hemp plants take a few months to grow and require no herbicides and little pesticide.

Carvajal said many myths surround the hemp industry and have paved the way for the ban on hemp production in this country. Too many people have a misconception that the hemp business is an attempt to legalize marijuana through backdoor tactics, he said.

“They think it’s a hippie business, a counterculture business, a pot business, and it’s far from that,” Carvajal said.

Though Carvajal said he supports using marijuana for medicinal purposes, he keeps his views about the drug separate from his work in the hemp industry.

“I like not to mix the two because that’s the biggest thing we’re trying to stay away from,” he said.

Spokane resident Linda Estep, a consultant who’s helping Carvajal get his company operating here, said the public’s association of hemp with marijuana is partly a result of people in the hemp industry with two agendas: legalizing hemp production and legalizing marijuana consumption.

“Unfortunately, I think the industry has kind of perpetuated that a little bit,” Estep said. “We’re hoping we can kind of break through from that.”

Estep said she does not support legalized marijuana, but, like Carvajal, she keeps her views on marijuana separate from her views on hemp.

The U.S Hemp Co. formed in 2004, and its Spokane branch will be the first of the company”s operations outside Santa Cruz .

Copyright 2005. Reproduced with permission of The Spokesman-Review. Permission is granted in the interest of public discussion and does no imply endorsement of any product, service or organization otherwise mentioned herein.