JOINED AT THE HEMP

WEEDING BETWEEN THE LINES AT AMERICA'S FIRST-EVER CANNABIS COMMERCE CONVENTION

One of her colleagues diplomatically points out that while Bohling's heart may be in the right place, her logic leaves something to be desired: If the driving forces behind the association don't cough up enough money to carry their own weight, who will? Bohling laughs. "Hey, man, we can do a rock concert and have enough money to fund this thing for two or three years," she counters. "Like I keep telling you guys, we already paid our dues."

That was exactly the sort of hippy-dippy, freaky-deaky Zeitgeist that permeated the entire fabric of the hemp happening. Granted, some valid points were made during the weekend. Noting that more than 5,000 hemp products were once produced in the United States, one councilmember wondered why he kept seeing the same handful of products over and over.

"We need diversity," he preached. "Hopefully, we can create all-new hemp products--couches, sofas, surfboards, houses, whatever."

But for every voice of reason, there seemed to be at least two hempsters ready to advocate heartfelt nonsense, like the guy who thought it'd be groovy to incorporate the association under the laws of "the Native American nation," presumably because Indians would be more sympathetic to the cause. ("Yeah!" came a cheer from the back of the room. "Let's have a hemp casino!") And so it went. During an election of officers, an earnest young hopeful announced that his naivet‚ ("I want people to put things in my ears so I can rinse them through my head and come up with an opinion") made him the ideal candidate. (Few could doubt that qualification, particularly after hearing his proposal for a massive hemp emporium in New York City where salesclerks would preach the joys of cannabis.)

Another candidate gave voters food for thought when he boasted that he was the first hemp rapper in history to be censored. Reportedly fearing litigation, the record company that had released his song bleeped out the name "Du Pont."

Things really took a turn for the spacy when it came time to select a name for the brand-new trade organization. "I think we're all in agreement that the initials of this organization should not be THC," announced one councilmember at the outset, immediately prompting a chorus of groans from the True Hemp Certified faction. "Acronyms are important," volunteered another member. "The initials should spell something." Everyone agreed on that, opening the floodgates for several dozen suggestions ranging from HIC to HI; at one point, someone even shouted out something about ACID. Easily the strangest suggestion came from a waiflike woman who insisted the group should use the acronym HIP. "That way, we can have pins made that read HIP PIN--PIN standing for 'Partners in Nature'--and we can wear our HIP PIN pins on our hips." While we savored that one, someone else had another brainstorm: Rather than voting on a specific organizational name, why not first vote on individual words within the title? Thankfully, there was no support for that movement and the chairman closed nominations, asking members to applaud for their favorite choice in a "clap test."

The winner? Hemp Industries Association. Corporate America, say "hiya" to HIA.

Fresh from his presidential victory in HIA's first election, Chris Conrad ponders the organization's future while idly toying with a plastic marijuana leaf. "We don't perceive this as a quick-fix or a fad market," says 42-year-old Conrad. "This is a matter of us seizing our moment in history, recognizing that this is the rebirth of what we believe is going to be the biggest industry in the world over the next 100 years. We see this as something that's going to go on for generations and generations. Hemp is the future."

Conrad admits that marshaling the troops without causing mutiny within the ranks may be one of the association's biggest challenges. "We need to be able to tell them that in order to be in compliance with our standards, they need to do something, not just be in favor of marijuana. But because of the delicate sensitivities of these individuals, you just can't say that to some of these people.

"What it comes down to is that all of us came out here to create a trade association," says Conrad, already sounding like a capitalist. "And the people who believe that we must take some kind of political position beyond the scope of that trade association are going to be disappointed."

Several days after the conference is over, I outline the hempsters' plans to infiltrate the American garment industry to a buddy who's the vice president of a high-end men's clothing store in L.A. "This thing is never going to fly," he reports. "And it doesn't have anything to do with the problem of the marijuana image. The truth is that the American apparel manufacturers don't want to produce a more durable fiber. Why would they? They want to be able to sell you a new shirt every year--that's how they make their money." But what about consumers who might be willing to pay a premium price for a long-lasting garment made of hemp?

"You'd still have the image problem," he replies. "The big textile companies are very conservative. There is no way they're going to risk losing business by getting involved in a political issue like this."

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