The COVID-19 pandemic couldn't stop the NoCo Hemp Expo two years in a row, and an estimated 7,000 people descended on the National Western Complex from March 25 through March 27 for the seventh annual Colorado hemp conference.
The 2020 NoCo Hemp Expo, originally set for last spring, was postponed and then ultimately forced online, but organizers were able to bring some semblance of normalcy to the event this year. While the setup included a mask mandate, hand-sanitizer stations and IKEA-like arrows pointing attendees around the Western Complex buildings to increase social distancing, those in attendance didn't mind the rules, since they were at their first major industry conference since the pandemic began last March.
"We're really happy with how it's turned out. I think people were excited to get out and interact," expo organizer Morris Beegle told the crowd.
Beegle had booked around 300,000 square feet of event space, which housed nearly 250 hemp, CBD and non-psychedelic mushroom vendors; there were several speaking stages and an auditorium for keynote speakers, including Governor Jared Polis.
"It is good to see folks here, showing how resilient we are at coming back," Polis told attendees. "If anyone is ready to plant the seeds for rapid recovery and growth for future generations, it is the hemp community, and, more specifically, the Colorado hemp community."
Polis touted Colorado's hemp regulations, which are relatively loose compared to those of other states around the rest of the country, but he acknowledged that registered hemp growers decreased in 2020 as wholesale hemp biomass and CBD fell in price from the year before. Even so, the governor said that he was excited to see the potential of industrial hemp fiber products as the market meets maturity.
Although the majority of hemp grown in Colorado is currently for CBD extraction, Beegle has espoused the potential of hemp fiber at previous expos, and he repeated that at this expo, which featured wedding dresses, blankets, plastics, building materials, backpacks and even a car made with a hemp fiber base.
"I'm all about the fiber stuff, really. People like to nerd about cannabinoids, and that's cool, but I like the fiber stuff. Cars and guitars, and some of the fabric stuff. Hemp insulation, building materials. There's going to be a huge expansion," said Beegle, who was once a music promoter and now owns a company that makes guitars and amplifiers from hemp-based material.
Some members of Colorado's hemp community, including Beegle, had recently criticized Polis's administration and the state Department of Agriculture for how it handled a state contract bid for the creation of a Colorado Hemp Center of Excellence intended to help direct federally approved research and outreach in the state's hemp industry. The controversy stemmed from a CDA selection committee ultimately choosing a marijuana industry group known more for policy work regarding state-legal marijuana than industrial hemp.
But at the expo, there were no more concerns. "We're moving on," Beegle said. "Whether [Polis] had anything to do with it or not, he could be our president someday, and he supports this industry, so I'm not going to sit there and fight."
Besides, there are too many directions in which the industry could go. The NoCo Hemp Expo also featured several mushroom vendors and discussions, and Beegle said he expects that presence to remain as public interest in mushrooms, psychedelic and non-psychedelic, increases.
"Hemp is the platform, but there are other alternatives. Mushrooms, whether it's superfoods, supplements and building materials like Styrofoam replacement. And we support psychedelics and medicinal. The NoCo Hemp Expo isn't just going to be about hemp anymore. What is better for human and planetary health, that's what we're for," Beegle noted.
The NoCo Hemp Expo plans to return to the National Western Complex in March 2022, according to Beegle; he's slated to host a similar conference, the Southern Hemp Expo, in North Carolina this September.
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