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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."

But all is not lost.
"If these people are really serious about producing hemp clothing, my advice would be to somehow change the name of the fabric and turn the whole thing over to one of the major textile manufacturers who have experience in this field," he concludes. "Probably a company like Du Pont."

Du Pont?!! Bummer, man!!!

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Dewey Webb