Building Hemp’s Future
Investment needed to prepare for a prosperous hemp future
Interview by HempToday
Hana Gabrielova is CEO, Hempoint Ltd., one of Europe’s pioneering and most innovative hemp food companies. Hana is a widely recognized expert and consultant on everything from hemp farming to patient focused certification (PFC) for medical cannabis, through her affiliation with the Prague-based International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute.
HempToday: You’ve been around hemp for a long time. What’s your analysis of the current situation with hemp food. The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has predicted fast growth for Europe and beyond. Are you feeling it at Hempoint? What does the market look like now from your perspective?
Hana Gabrielova: I agree with EIHA that the Euro hemp food market is growing and this will not stop. But we’re still importing around half the seed needed in Europe from China and Canada, which is not environmentally sustainable over long term. So there is obvious demand for locally produced seed across the Europe.
HT: What does the current legal environment look like for the hemp industry? What advances need to be made in this respect?
HG: In many countries sales of hemp foods is still not legal or is in a grey area. That’s due to the fact that the market growth was so fast and so big that governments were not flexible enough to react in a positive way. So we’re still missing the necessary clinical proof and regulations which will fully, and legally, open those markets. Standards and quality control in production are key to getting this legislation in place. Without a focus on that we’re not able to produce the products legally in all EU countries because there are no EU-wide guidelines set for THC levels in food products. This is a big problem for all hemp industry players. Some countries are more progressive than others at the national level so the products are more or less accepted. But with zero tolerance products for THC in food in many places — because of antiquated laws and attitudes toward hemp, and a lack of EU guidance — it’s not always easy to put hemp products on the market.
HT: As you mentioned, there’s an imbalance in the situation regarding hemp seed in Europe, where imports from as far away as China and Canada are required to cover at least 50% of demand. Doesn’t that represent a real market opportunity for certified seed growers?
HG: Of course it’s a great place to start. And Europe should grow hemp for her needs first. But again, we need infrastructure to be able to do it. Farmers need to be educated. Governments need to be educated.
HT: Your work with the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute (ICCI) is centered on Patient Focused Certification (PFC). What does that mean? What are the overall goals of ICCI’s PFC initiative?
HG: The concept of PFC started with Americans for Safe Access, an NGO working to provide high-standard cannabis to those suffering from different illnesses in the USA. PFC audits growers and manufacturing and distribution operations to ensure that their processes deliver safe medical cannabis. The goal is to make sure that the whole chain of production is closely controlled in order to ensure the products are safe for humans.
HT: What other issues is ICCI addressing? What are the organization’s other key initiatives and goals?
HG: ICCI also works on meta analysis regarding clinical studies of cannabis — to continue the process of discovery regarding the many positive benefits the plant offers. The Institute has a strong working background in data analysis that can yield very important conclusions. ICCI is also connected to many research institutions and universities which participate in new clinical trials and studies that can speed up the process of getting cannabis into the medicinal mainstream.
HT: How do you see hemp fitting in as an engine for economic development?
HG: This is the most powerful argument for developing the hemp industry, but we need to grow big amounts of hemp to fully realize its potential to positively impact the economy — and human health. Why are we still importing other materials that could be replaced by hemp? Hemp can give us everything from paper — which will reduce deforestation — to healthy buildings with lower energy consumption. It’s a proven material for producing bio-plastics instead of the petroleum-based plastics we now use, and which create a huge environmental problem. Eating hemp foods can prolong our lives and save our health.
More importantly, hemp is perfect as a component in local economic development. It can help revive the small, agrarian economic model if we set up systems in which the hemp is grown, processed and used as close to the fields as possible. It could create a vast number of jobs. But we have to overcome the mentality that comes from 55 years of prohibition. That limits the economic development hemp promises — and it still leaves hemp with a cloud over it because of the drug war that made people think of hemp and marijuana as the same thing.
HT: What’s your analysis of the current market for certified organic hemp products shaping up? Is there a growing demand for organic hemp products in Europe?
HG: I would like to see all hemp food production made organic. The reason is simple. Hemp is often planted for phytoremediation — as a method of cleaning up polluted land. That means as it grows it’s absorbing heavy metals, pesticides, etc. from the earth. So if we want to eat healthy hemp food, it should not be grown in a conventional way because it’s difficult or even impossible to ensure the highest quality. This is why the demand for organic seeds is growing much faster than the demand for conventional seeds.
HT: What will Hempoint look like five years from now?
HG: I see a big need for more research and education in hemp, so my strategy is to develop the company in that direction. There are still so many questions which haven’t been answered. I’m planning to start further PhD studies this autumn at Mendel University in Brno, where they’re researching all forms of cannabis intently, to further expand my knowledge and to take my knowledge into their program.
HT: What would be your advice to a young entrepreneur who is interested in starting a hemp business?
HG: Study it first, and study it deeply. Then go to work at a hemp farm even if you have to do it as a volunteer. Get close to hemp products by eating hemp food, and wearing clothing made of hemp materials; attend some of the great hemp building seminars that are out there. Share your experience with others and spread the word. Then think about what you like to do, your background and how you could build a hemp business based on your skills, strengths and interests.