New Belgium, Willie Nelson Call for American Hemp Reform

Colorado is one of the nation's leading industrial hemp producers.EXPAND
Colorado is one of the nation's leading industrial hemp producers.
Kenneth Hamblin III
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It's not quite baseball and apple pie, but the list of combinations more American than beer, agriculture and country music is a short one. So the fireworks were in full effect when the trio of New Belgium Brewing, GCH Inc. (Willie Nelson's legal cannabis company) and the Vote Hemp organization announced their partnership on Tuesday, July 3, to highlight the plant's economic benefits and call for federal and state reform.

Expected to officially launch today, July 4, the American Hemp Campaign wants to encourage hemp farming in America by talking with lawmakers, industry influencers and the public about the economic benefits of domestic hemp production. Although state-legal programs helped push Americans to purchase at least $820 million worth of hemp products in 2017, according to the Hemp Business Journal, the plant still doesn't have the full federal approval of other agricultural products like cotton or wheat thanks to hemp's kinship with psychoactive marijuana plants.

The U.S. Senate passed the FARM bill last week, which includes provisions to legalize the cultivation, processing and sale of hemp. However, the bill must be merged with its counterpart in the House of Representatives during a bicameral conference committee before reaching President Donald Trump, so fully legalized hemp isn't here just yet. Until then, the industrial-hemp industry — particularly the cannabidiol (CBD) sector — won't be in the clear from potential prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

New Belgium, Willie Nelson Call for American Hemp Reform (2)
Courtesy of Vote Hemp

Both companies partnering with the campaign are familiar with the cannabis plant. New Belgium released its Hemperor HPA, a pale ale with a hemp base and stanky aroma, earlier in 2018, while GCH owns Willie's Reserve, the commercial cannabis manufacturer offering products in Colorado, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. New Belgium distributes to all fifty states, and each has its own policies regarding hemp. According to New Belgium CEO Steve Fechheimer, this caused a variety of obstacles to releasing its hemp-friendly beer.

“At New Belgium we launched a hemp-based beer, the Hemperor HPA, this spring, and the regulatory hurdles to get to market just seemed outrageously outdated and onerous,” Fechheimer says. “Beer is an agricultural product, and we see hemp as a potentially game-changing ingredient in brewing, so we are proud to take a stand along with Willie and the Vote Hemp folks to get these laws updated to benefit beer drinkers and farmers across the country.”

Although the Red Headed Stranger himself couldn't be reached for comment, GCH CEO Andrew Davison says in a statement that Nelson believes in the "importance of industrial hemp to help farmers, the environment and society," and discusses the topic frequently. “We’re an American cannabis company, working to build his vision across all sectors of cannabis. We want to see hemp agriculture flourish in the U.S. again,” Davison adds.

Each of the participating entities will work to get other like-minded businesses and organizations involved in the campaign with the help of VS Strategies, the public-affairs arm of Denver-based cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg. 

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