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Highlights from NoCo Hemp Conference Panels: How did we get here, and where are we going?

by Bethany Moore, Director of Content Strategy and Market Growth, and David Vaillencourt, CEO and Founder at The GMP Collective

[Excerpt from Cannabis Industry Journal]

At the 10th Annual NoCo Hemp Conference and Expo, held in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado this year, educational panels included a wide array of topics covering both the fiber and industrial potentials of hemp products as well as the plant’s supplemental and dietary applications. Our attention was focused on consuming the policy and regulatory discussions held throughout the day on Thursday, April 11. The panels brought together “prominent stakeholders and thought leaders to explore the ever-evolving regulatory framework, innovative research initiatives, and the imminent implications of the upcoming 2024 Farm Bill for the hemp industry.” The day of panels brought together economists, prominent lawyers, regulatory health experts, and more. The array of speakers could be perceived to have disparate interests whereas, throughout the day, each panel brought valuable perspective and insights with a common theme: the need for collaboration and minimum standards for market certainty.

Keynote Panel

Kicking off the event on the main stage was a keynote address by Beau Whitney of Whitney Economics, addressing the economic outlook of the industry. Some key takeaways from his remarks included observations on the difficulty of market strategies due to constantly changing rules, prompting investors to have a “wait and see” approach to the industry. Currently, pricing has stabilized for cannabinoid biomass, and there is an overall increase in production for hemp fiber and grain, though more acres of hemp growth are needed to keep up with demand. The U.S. cannabinoid market boasts more than $28 billion potential, with cannabis sitting at a similar dollar amount. The illicit market, however, is estimated to hold $79 billion of the market. Whitney also noted that companies that intend to pursue the global market should do so by preparing for GMP/GAP certification.

ASTM Standards

The next panel heeded the call for the need for the development of minimum standards for consumer safety, as emphasized in the previous panel. The panel featured various experts who are involved in ASTM, including The GMP Collective CEO and Founder David Vaillencourt, along with Darwin Millard of TSOC, Alex Escher of Hemp Hollow Consulting, and Hunter Buffington of Agriculture Policy Solutions. Escher noted that there is not a one-size-fits-all protocol for testing hemp, but that safety is paramount in all applications. He offered a specific example of health and safety issues related to toxic dust concentration and pointed to a national story where an employee suffered fatal health issues while working in a cultivation facility. Occupational safety and health issues apply to the hemp and cannabis industry just like any other industry, and in-house safety protocols need to be central to every operation. Vaillencourt emphasized the importance of collaboration in creating viable and relevant market solutions, allowing collaboration between various stakeholders including biologists, chemists, economists, lawmakers, regulators, and more. He also encouraged further participation in ASTM International, a global standards organization that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services. One way for participants to get involved is to become a member of ASTM and join the D37 Committee on Cannabis, and attend the upcoming USP-ASTM Workshop on Cannabis Medicine Quality happening in June in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the June Committee Week. Buffington, also an ASTM member, noted that the D37 Committee is collaborating with other non-cannabis committees to leverage information and expertise from other industries. Truly, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Millard, who chairs multiple D37 subcommittees, says that the only way to commercialize the plant is through standards. Laws beget regulations, and this is where standards become the “meat on the bone.” A lack of industry-accepted standards will prevent market adoption, he warns. Each of these panelists have rolled up their sleeves at the table of standards development, and they all echoed the invitation for more industry operators and stakeholders to get involved in ASTM and join the collaborative effort.

Buffington noted that hemp currently boasts more than 27,000 uses, and Vaillencourt emphasized the trillion-dollar market potential of the plant. “How do we go from today at a billion-dollar economy to the future trillion-dollar economy? We do that through the development of standards,” says Vaillencourt. Given that Congress has already directed federal regulators through the National Technology and Transfer Advancement Act to defer to standards that represent a balance of interest and filter out bias through the rigorous consensus voting process, all stakeholders interested in seeing a viable marketplace with safe products must pull up their seats to the ASTM table and participate in the standards creation process.

Read full article on the Cannabis Industry Journal website