Centuries ago, hemp was a dominant global commodity, used to build ropes that powered ships for commerce and exploration.
The steam engine and the Industrial Revolution made the crop less vital to global commerce, and in the 20th century, anti-cannabis hysteria rendered hemp impossible to grow and trade in much of the world.
That’s changing. A renewed focus on natural fibers and sustainability, coupled with a global reconsideration of cannabis policy and the medical potential of cannabinoids, has hemp producers hopeful that the plant will retake its place as a major international commodity.
But U.S. hemp producers have a big challenge. Two hundred years of decline have left the hemp industry lacking the networks in Washington DC necessary to iron out policies needed to ease global trade.
That’s according to Gregg Doud, a former chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Doud was chief ag negotiator in the Trump administration and was the lead architect of 2020’s U.S.-China Phase One agreement on trade and intellectual property.
Doud’s long Washington career in ag economics and policy included work as senior staffer on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where he led work on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Hemp Industry Daily caught up with Doud as he prepared to address the Hemp Leaders Coalition – a Washington DC-focused advocacy organization – last week to find out the current state of play in global hemp commerce and what needs to happen to increase global opportunities.
Where do you see global opportunities for hemp trade?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure the global opportunities are there just yet. To me, that’s a little bit of the cart before the horse.
My personal opinion is, we’ve got a lot of work to do here on the regulatory side in the U.S. and getting our house in order.
What needs to be addressed before those conversations can happen?
We have a tendency to get gung-ho and excited about a new product, and we want to get forward and get on with it. And then from a regulatory standpoint, we have a tendency to want to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. That’s not the best way to go.
Being someone that has worked in Washington for 29 years, being someone that has worked in the White House, there’s a need to coordinate an interagency overall strategy and comprehensive way of looking at things.
You’ve got to bring in different regulatory agencies, FDA, SBA, Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection people. Build a consensus into what the final policy is going to be.
So those conversations aren’t happening now?
When it comes to hemp, my honest answer is in that in nearly three years there (in the White House), there was not a single conversation about hemp in this regard.
There was complete and utter lack of consensus.
I think there are strong and diverging opinions on this within our government on hemp, on basic fundamental issues of trade in hemp.
You have a semi(truck) load of cannabis and you’d have a semi load of hemp. How can you tell the difference, right?
What can hemp operators interested in doing international business be doing to change things?
First and foremost, you need to invest in Washington.
In whatever mechanism you want to invest in, whether it’s law firms, lobbyists, regulatory specialists, consultants or some combinations of all of them, to begin to build that coalition and consensus.
You’ve got to have a consensus in your industry, and you bring that to the government and say, “This is what we want you to do.”
We have a general tendency as stakeholders, on the production side of the equation, to come to Washington and say, “Here’s our problem, and we want you to fix it.”
And that’s not the way this works. You come to Washington and say, “Here’s our problem, and here’s a document that spells out our solution to this problem. We have an agreement and consensus in our industry.”
That’s what our government can use to sit down with other countries and say, “We think we have a mechanism whereby you can safely facilitate trade in these products.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected].