Zev Paiss – Founder of National Hemp Association
The National Hemp Association, founded in 2014, is dedicated to the re-birth of industrial hemp in America. Their mission is to help connect farmers, processors, manufactures, researchers, investors and policy makers to accelerate the growth of this important industry in the US.
Zev is the Executive Director of NHA and was one of the core founders of the organization.
Hi, Zev. Thanks again for taking the time. I’ve been looking forward to learning more about your background and your work with NHA.
Zev Paiss: Thank you
What’s your background and how did you first learn about hemp?
ZP: I’ve been a sustainability educator and consultant for 30-35 years. I’ve worked in areas such as renewable energy, urban agriculture, alternative transportation, and healthy organic foods.
I first learned about hemp about 4-5 years ago, and was amazed at how it could provide a sustainable alternative for so many different products and industries. So when Colorado passed the bill that legalized hemp farming in 2012 (Colorado Amendment 64), I wanted to get involved in it.
I tracked down who was behind passing the legislation and found a loosely formed group of hemp experts. I then asked if they wanted form a formal association and offered to help form one since I had past experience working with various associations.
So in May 2014, we officially launched the Rocky Mountain Hemp Association, which was focused in Colorado. But after a couple months, we realized there was a vacuum at the national level, as we were getting calls and emails from all over the country. So we decided to take it a step further and changed our name to the National Hemp Association by the end of 2014.
What inspired your passion for hemp?
“I realized how many products could be made from hemp that weren’t being utilized today”
ZP: Before I really got into hemp, I was already aware of what it is and a couple of its applications. For example, I knew historically hemp was used for things such as rope, cordage, clothing. But, as I looked more into it, I realized how many products could be made from hemp that weren’t being utilized today. That’s when I realized I could get into this and help introduce this to many different industries.
What type of benefits do you see hemp bringing to our society?
“The Industrial Hemp Farming Act could be the largest jobs bill that Congress can pass in 2016”
ZP: When you look at other countries that have been using hemp for a while, hemp is just another crop that they can take advantage of and use in many different products. Canada is growing its hemp seeds and hemp oil products. China has used hemp fiber to build a textile industry. A lot of countries even use it internally as animal feed because it’s a great rotational crop and very nutritious for animals
Specifically in the US, hemp will provide more jobs for our farmers as a crop that’s profitable. Right now, many farmers are struggling to make money from traditional crops. Hemp will also help clean up our farmlands, as you don’t need to use pesticides or any other chemicals when planting hemp.
So when you look at these implications, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act could be the biggest bill that congress can pass to bring positive economical and environmental changes. This act will create jobs in multiple industries – from farming, manufacturing, to even retail.
There’s been articles recently mentioning how Tennessee farmers are giving up on hemp after giving it a try last year. What is your take on this?
There needs to be an understanding that we are still in a research and development phase with hemp. This crop was last harvested in the US back in mid 1900s, so there’s a lot of things we need to relearn. Farmers need to understand there is still a risk with planting hemp and we experienced this first-hand in Tennessee.
I’d say there were two main reasons why things didn’t turn out well in Tennessee. First is the delays caused by the DEA, which delayed the planting period by 1–2 months for the farmers.
Tennessee also experienced a ridiculous amount of rain last year. Hemp does not require a lot of water and that much water actually stunted the growth of the crop.
But if you look at other states like Kentucky or Colorado, they are increasing their cultivation this year and other states are starting to step in to pilot the crop as well.
How has the hemp landscape changed in the US while you’ve been involved?
ZP: It’s changed in several ways. One change is that there’s much higher activity at the state level and more people are pressuring state legislators to pass hemp laws. We’re going to hit more than 30 states that have passed some type of hemp law soon.
Although we’re not fully there yet, we’ve made steady progress at the federal level as well.
The other piece is on the research that’s going on. As more farmers plant hemp, there’s been more research to map the genome of various cultivars. People are researching what cultivar will grow best in Kentucky compared to Colorado, and comparing what grows well where.
There’s also research going on in the unexpected benefits of hemp, such as looking into its application in supercapacitors and as a replacement for graphene.
When you look at the retail side, there’s been a lot of hemp brands popping up. There are a huge number of very small companies entering this space and developing products in food, cosmetics, body products, apparel, etc. There’s a company here in Colorado called HempBox that sends samples of hemp products to consumers on a monthly basis. They have over 400 companies signed up to raise awareness of hemp brands.
How do you see hemp’s status continuing to change in the near future? What excites you most about hemp’s future?
“Anything you can make out of fossil fuel, you can make out of hemp”
ZP: I’m most excited about the potential use of industrial hemp as a replacement of fossil fuel. Anything you can make out of fossil fuel, you can make out of hemp. This includes energy, plastic, paper, and even construction materials like hempcrete and particle boards.
What is your biggest concern?
ZP: There’s always going to be a shadow hanging around hemp until it’s fully legalized at the federal level. Until we can pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, we’re going to have a lot of challenges moving forward because the DEA is going to continue to do what they do until we remove it from the Controlled Substances Act
What type of impact do you want to make for hemp? What type of legacy do you want to leave behind?
ZP: There’s 4 main goals that I have:
- To lead the passing of the legislation at the federal level
- Reenergize the farming community with a much more profitable crop
- Reduce dependence on fossil fuel
- Improve the health of America by promoting hemp products
If I can help achieve all this, I will die a happy man.
What kind of support do you need from the public to legalize hemp? How can normal citizens help?
ZP: Go to our website and write a letter to your legislator to ask them to please support the industrial hemp farming act. There is a campaign for Farmers to write letters too; they just need to customize the letter with their own details and ask that they be allowed to grow hemp.
The biggest help we can get is to donate to our federal campaign. It’s costing us over $20K dollars a month to support our Washington D.C. team and send hemp experts to testify before Congress.