Farmer and Cal Poly alumnus Alex McCabe spoke to a group of students at a club meeting, where he made a remarkable promise to the members.

He promised to not only speak to club members about industry opportunities, but offer to pay their club dues as well.

McCabe said he wants to help build the future of hemp industry. More specifically, he wants that future to be at Cal Poly. But, according to McCabe, Cal Poly is not preparing for that future.

“I think it’s disappointing that Cal Poly isn’t taking a more progressive approach on expanding the opportunities of hemp,” McCabe said.

McCabe is the owner of Farmer’s Hemp, a vertically integrated hemp farming organization based in Fresno County. The company specializes in drying, storing, processing, bucking and milling hemp, according to their website. 

 “This is a career for the future and Cal Poly needs to embrace it because we have the greatest minds here. We need the best minds in hemp,” McCabe said. 

Industrial hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa L. with less than 0.3 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. This is not enough to create the psychoactive feeling that marijuana gives when consumed. 

The plant is establishing itself as one of the most profitable crops in modern agriculture. In the U.S., over $20 billion in market growth projected for hemp-derived products by 2024, according to a BDS Analytics report. 

“It’s logical as we evolve as a society and we find better and stronger ways to do things,” McCabe said. “And this plant aides that future momentum.”

Industrial hemp was removed from the list of controlled substances in the 2018 “Farm Bill,” or Agriculture Improvement Act. This allowed the crop to become an agricultural commodity, according to the bill’s text.

In 2014, a previous edition of the “Farm Bill” allowed universities and agriculture state departments to begin pilot research on industrial hemp. However, the hemp must be “grown or cultivated for purposes of research” in either the academic or agricultural realms. 

Universities, such as Oregon State and Purdue University, are beginning to take note of hemp. 

Oregon State’s Global Hemp Innovation Center, which launched in June 2019, claims to be the largest hemp research center in the nation with multinational partnerships, according to an Oregon State news release. Purdue University scientists received nearly $1 million for hemp research from a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant in September 2019.

“There’s just so many ways we can utilize this plant that we should,” McCabe said.

University Spokesperson Matt Lazier said there are currently no research projects involving industrial hemp at Cal Poly. Nor are there any classes regarding hemp. 

“Cal Poly does not have its own blanket prohibition against such research, and the university will review any proposed hemp-related research projects for compliance with state and federal law,” Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News. 

This statement contrasted a Feb. 27, 2018 email from former university Provost Kathleen Enz Finken sent to Cal Poly faculty. In the email, Enz Finken wrote that marijuana usage, production, possession, cultivation, sale, transportation and distribution were prohibited under state law, federal law and California State University bylaws. Despite the passage of Proposition 64 — which legalized recreational cannabis usage at the state law — going into effect Jan. 1, 2018. 

Enz Finken wrote that “regulations and requirements for such research are quite complicated and overlap with additional state regulations and laws.”

“Failure to comply could result in civil and criminal penalties, including loss of federal funds to the campus and [the California State University],” Enz Finken wrote in the email. “In light of this, such ‘Farm Bill’ projects will not be administered, supported, or conducted on our campus or with campus resources.” 

A response from Lazier said Enz Finken’s stance was an interpretation of California State University Executive Order 930, which says the university system “is committed to maintaining a workplace free from the unlawful manufacture, possession, distribution, dispensation or use of controlled substances.”

Lazier noted there were no blanket prohibitions on hemp-related research, and exceptions for hemp fibers with less than 0.3 percent THC — the amount of THC content in Cannabis sativa L.

“Discussions on this issue are ongoing with the Provost’s Office, the Office of Research and Economic Development, and others,” Lazier wrote.

While the university does not prohibit any hemp research from taking place, PolyHemp president and crop science graduate student Ted Fitzgerald said that Cal Poly has been hesitant in allowing hemp research because of the stigmas associated with hemp.

“We’re here at PolyHemp to make that clear distinction from cannabis, the psychoactive component and separate us from that culture of a stigmatized association with the plant,” Fitzgerald said. “We just really want to be able to allow Cal Poly to fully utilize the whole plant and take off in the industry.”

Horticulture and crop science lecturer and PolyHemp faculty advisor Mike Bush said he believes hemp research at Cal Poly will be coming faster than the five to 10 years he initially predicted in April 2019.

“They kind of put their finger and thumb together without being able to see any space between them,” Bush said. “I’m not sure I agree with them that much, but I think we’re close.”

Since PolyHemp’s inception in Spring 2019, Bush said he has seen an increased interest in the club.

The global industrial hemp market is projected to grow significantly by 2025, according to a June 2019 report by Brightfield Group, a market research organization focusing on both the cannabis and CBD industries. Currently valued at an estimated $4.6 billion, the global industrial hemp market is expected to grow to $26.6 billion in 2025.

Cannabidiol, a product that comes from industrial hemp and is also known as CBD, is also expected to see an increase in sales. For hemp-derived CBD alone, sales are projected to reach $22 billion by 2022, according to a September 2018 Brightfield Group report. In 2018, the hemp-derived CBD market was worth $591 million, according to the same report.

“What people learn to do is follow the money,” Bush said. “There’s a lot of money in hemp. There’s a lot of potential to support hemp and collect information here at Cal Poly.”

“We’re hempsters, not dopesters,” Bush said. 

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