Longform

JOINED AT THE HEMP

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Requesting anonymity, another vendor confesses, "When I applied for my [sales] tax license, they asked for my social security number. That's the first time I've put my social security number out there in over 20 years!"

Judging from several meetings held over the course of the weekend, the hempsters' transition from underground economy to mainstream corporate America will not be easy.

In one confab I attended, eight people sat around wrestling with such issues as who should be allowed to join the trade organization. Does the guy who makes seed-filled hemp hacky sacks out of his garage qualify as a real player in the industry? (Yes.) Does the hippie who carries a sign through a rally deserve "activist" membership? (No.) Then, venturing into the realm of we-should-have-such-problems, the discussion bogs down with a convoluted--and, for now, pointless--debate on the amount of dues that a company like Esprit should be forced to pony up in the highly unlikely event that a major manufacturer would ever attempt to join the hemp organization. "Ninety percent of the people here this weekend have lived like paupers at some point during the last three or four years to help make hemp a daily household word," volunteers Christie Bohling. "So it's okay if the guy who comes in next week pays a little more in dues than you have. See, you guys have already paid your dues, man."

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."

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Dewey Webb