Judging by the sixth annual NoCo Hemp Expo, or NoCo 6, the American hemp industry is poised for explosive growth in the coming years.

Begun in 2014, the NoCo Hemp Expo celebrated its first year in Denver, Colorado on March 29 and 30. An estimated 10,000 people, the largest attendance ever, crammed into the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Center for the sold-out show. The move to Denver came after the 2018 NoCo Hemp Expo outgrew the event’s former location at a convention center in Loveland, about an hour’s drive to the north. Organizers are already looking for a bigger home for the 2020 event.

While there were numerous CBD vendors vying for attention, NoCo 6’s expo hall also featured the latest in hemp innovations. All through the event, panel discussions looked to the future of a fast-growing industry, with a focus on building sustainable hemp in America.

HEMP INNOVATION ON DISPLAY AT NOCO 6

The legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill promises to open up new uses for hemp, thanks to an increasing supply of U.S. grown hemp. It’s clear from NoCo 6 that the industry is already reinventing itself.

The NoCo 6 hemp fashion show, organized by Enviro Textiles, showcased the growing variety in the field. Highlights included a tailored hemp suit, silky hemp robes, and even hemp backpacks.

Photo: Hemp guitars and a hemp ukelele from Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars, on display at NoCo 6, the 2019 Noco Hemp Expo in Denver, Colorado.

Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars, part of the WAFBA family of hemp brands, on display at NoCo 6 Hemp Expo in Denver, Colorado.

Morris Beegle, the founder of the NoCo Hemp Expo, also showcased products from his WAFBA family of brands. These included hemp notebooks, hemp clothing, and hemp instruments from Silver Mountain Hemp.

Going even deeper into hemp’s potential, high-tech hemp brands showed off the latest in hemp innovation. Green Spring Technologies impressed us with their injection-molded hemp plastics, and their hemp 3D printing display. We were equally excited about PF Design Lab and their bicycle frame made from hemp!

There was also a delicious variety of hemp and CBD-infused foods to sample, from Hempress’ hemp chai tea to decadent CBD chocolates and cookies from Incentive Gourmet.

GROWERS & ADVOCATES PLAN A SUSTAINABLE HEMP FUTURE

Sustainability was a recurring them of the panels at NoCo 6.

A panel of regenerative agriculture experts described hemp as part of a larger solution to the environmental crisis.

“It’s not just about hemp standing alone,” said Tara Caton of the Rodale Institute.

Mike Lewis of Third Wave Farms agreed. Sustainable farming isn’t just about the crops but about “giving back to the land but also the people and community around the farm.”

A Kentucky hemp grower, Lewis also founded Growing Warriors, an organization that helps veterans become farmers.

One of the most forward-thinking groups at NoCo 6 were the members of the indigenous farmers panel. Marcus Grignon, of Hempstead Project Heart, warned about the dangers posed by patents on hemp. Environmentalist and Native American hemp advocate Winona LaDuke led the panel in calling for investing in an “indigenous hemp economy.” They also called for more hemp education, so that the next generation is better prepared to sustain the hemp industry.

Journalists and hemp media professionals also gathered on a panel, moderated by Ministry of Hemp Editor Kit O’Connell. The group also included representatives of Cannabis Now, Honeysuckle Magazine, and the Nutrition Business Journal. Recurring themes were the continuing normalization of hemp after decades of stigma, and the need for better, clearer, more transparent language when reporting on hemp and hemp products like CBD.

WHILE BARRIERS REMAIN, HEMP BOOM SHOWS NO SIGN OF SLOWING

There are still challenges facing the industry. The USDA has yet to release its guidelines for hemp growing. The FDA is considering how to handle the boom in over-the-counter CBD supplements. And there are still barriers preventing people from participating in the hemp industry. A clause in the 2018 Farm Bill bans most people with drug felonies less than 10 years old from participation in the hemp industry. No other crop faces similar restrictions.

Overall, though, the mood at NoCo 6 was upbeat and the event left us hopeful. After navigating the crowded halls of the convention center, it’s easy to believe hemp sales could reach $2 billion by 2022, or even before.

With so many passionate people excited about our favorite crop, it’s hard to imagine any barriers the hemp industry can’t overcome. Whether it’s ensuring consumers can access safe, reliable CBD oil, or exploring the future of hemp plastic and textiles, the future of hemp is developing right before our eyes.

Drew De Los Santos, Jessica St. Cyr, and Matt Baum contributed additional reporting for this article.