All photos courtesy of Shane Davis / Boulder Hemp Farm
When I met Shane Davis, activist and master grower, we were speeding through the central Colorado wilderness on a run-down party bus. The mix of weed journalists and industry vets who'd assembled for a local grow tour ate sandwiches from paper bags, chatting amongst rope lights and stripper poles. Past the tinted windows, the desert met the Rockies. The vast plains of middle America became arid stone pastures. High in an "I-ate-too-many-edibles" kind of way, I thought of how this cloverleaf of geography also spoke to the ideological positioning of Colorado, where Midwestern conservatives are challenged by Western liberals about the wild world of cannabis.
Suddenly, the conversation Davis was leading at the back of the bus penetrated my clouded head. Moving from the unique and boundless power of hemp, specifically in terms of transforming disenfranchised communities, to an ayahuasca pilgrimage, to wild feats of environmental activism, he became the most interesting thing on an already interesting bus. Immediately, I moved seats.
Part anti-fracking activist, part cannabis sage, Davis has been wildly prolific in implementing grassroots change throughout Colorado. Aside from his work data-mining official oil and gas documents to fight fracking, he's founded a number of cannabis companies (Boulder Hemp Farm, Slow Hemp, 7GENx) focused on realizing the concept of hempenomics, which orbits around how hemp "can create massive streams of revenue, liberate communities, and create economies." He believes by utilizing the whole plant, flower, and byproducts of cannabis, farming communities can become self-sustaining. Free from fossil fuels, small farmers can turn an exponential profit while undermining big agriculture companies like Monsanto, and provide affordable medicine in lieu of pharmaceuticals.
His most recent project, 7GENx, is doing just that. "7GENx is a hemp genetics research and development company that focuses on applied hemp genetics creating unique varieties for current and emerging markets," he explained to MERRY JANE. Basically, the new company plans to choose small farms around the country and teach farmers how to utilize the entire hemp plant. Byproducts like hemp ethanol and "hempcrete" will slash operation overhead and even offer farmers a renewable source of energy. In turn, the farms will sell the hemp flower back to Davis' Boulder Hemp Farm at the end of harvest season, which will use the plant to create a number of CBD products, all while producing far more revenue per acre than farmers would otherwise see with a vegetable crop.
While the hemp plant itself is considered a Schedule I narcotic, the CBD extracted from it is not. CBD, a cannabinoid yielding the medicinal benefits of pot without the psychoactive element, has emerged as a medicinal darling, allowing patients to reap the plant's analgesic effects without getting stoned. As with all things weed, CBD occupies a legal grey zone throughout the country. While thirty states have legalized the production of hemp, many limit cultivation to solely research purposes. Since the passage of Section 7606 of the Farm Bill — "Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research" — America's hemp production almost tripled in 2017. State licenses have been issued to less than 1,500 farmers, and 32 universities currently conduct research on the crop. And though the Industrial Hemp Farming Act has been introduced to Congress, hemp still remains federally illegal.
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Months after our jaunt through the middle of nowhere in Colorado, I spoke with Davis over the phone to discuss the basics of hempenomics, the infinite uses of this wonder plant, and how hemp can clean the Earth while threatening the corporate regimes that have marred our planet and society.
MERRY JANE: How did you become involved with cannabis?
Shane Davis: I've always had a deep curiosity of how things worked, as well as an interest in the taboo. Initially, I was a pre-med student. Then I got a classic biology education. From there, I really got deep into molecular genetics, which is what led me down this path.
How did your environmental activism initially inform your work with hemp?
I was fighting the oil and gas industry with my other organization, Fractivist, and felt the need to find a solution to grow our way out of fossil fuels. We can fight something all day long, but if we don't have a solution, we really don't have anything to offer. That's what led me to finding out that hemp could be used in so many ways.
If you look into why hemp and cannabis were banned in the 1930s, the players involved were corporate empires like DuPont, JP Morgan, big paper, big pharma, big agriculture and then, of course, the petroleum industry. Originally, Henry Ford's cars were made out of hemp fiber, and ran on hemp ethanol. Ford never intended to run their cars on fossil fuels. They had to make changes so the oil and gas empire could force us to buy what they have to sell. When you go to the gas pump, there are four choices counting diesel. But really, it's an illusion of choice. There is only one, and it's called fossil fuel.
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Can you explain the concept of hempenomics for those who aren't familiar?
Hempenomics showcases how hemp can create massive streams of revenue, liberate communities, and create economies. There are thousands of ways to use this plant. Now that people can grow hemp in the states that have authorized the Industrial Hemp Program, they can create their own companies. Farmers no longer have to fall in line with Big Agriculture. They're free to make money off small farms again. For example, the outside of the hemp stalk itself can be broken down and fermented to create pure ethanol. So we can run our farm equipment and machineries on pure ethanol created from a byproduct of hemp. Now that the plant has been liberated, we can liberate communities and finally chop away at those criminal empires.
How can hempenomics disrupt companies like Monsanto?
I gave a big presentation at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, which is where one of Monsanto's headquarters is. A representative from Monsanto spoke before I did. Then I got up and gave a presentation on hempenomics, showing that you don't have to be forced to buy one company's seeds. You're not forced to only make $200 an acre. You're not forced to grow and sell genetically modified organisms. When I finished, I must have had over a hundred of those farmers coming up to me, many of whom were currently growing GMOs and [embracing] a monocrop culture that destroys the land. Hempenomics has the power to revitalize small farms so those farmers can thrive and actually make a living while healing the Earth.
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How do you go about getting in contact with these small farmers?
Most of the people reach out to me. Initially, we were trying to find economic models that would allow Native American reservations to bring money back to the reservations so they would have real sovereignty, but also streams of revenue, food, and jobs. That was around 2015. Then I realized the small farmer is always suffering. Big Agriculture has basically boxed them out, bought them out, and almost exterminated them. They're making $200-300 an acre off of GMO crops when they could be making thousands an acre. I can show them how to do it. That kind of idea and potential spreads like wildfire.
What can these small farms do with the hemp after growing it?
CBD is the most lucrative byproduct, but another use is hempcrete. Instead of making concrete, which is destructive environmentally, you can chop up the inside of the hemp stalk and mix it with lime and water. Another is fermenting the stalk. A highly dense acre of hemp, when you ferment the stalks, creates about 1000 gallons of pure ethanol. [Farmers] can power their own machinery with the plant they just harvested.
Who can these farmers sell their hemp and hemp byproducts to?
The select farms 7GENx will choose all have to abide by the Slow Hemp standards, basically our elevated organic standards and practices. At the end of the year, we buy back their hemp flower for CBD production and sell it as medicine. There are many different byproducts, all of which we're teaching them how to use. Not only do they make income, they're self-sustaining [agricultural models].
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Can you explain Slow Hemp standards?
The easy way to think of Slow Hemp is elevated organic standards. When we think of organic, what does that mean? It means your land is certified by the USDA as organic, which means you don't use pesticides or any of that stuff. But there's all kinds of other stuff that happens outside the dirt that is certified organic. When it comes to hemp, what matters is where you get your genetics and who you're getting your plants from, because plants can carry pathogens and viruses. We provide small farms with the genetics, guaranteeing the chemotype (the chemical profile), the stability of the plants themselves, and that the plants are created and harvested in a clean environment. Once we get the farms to grow the hemp, we'll teach them how to harvest with hazardous control points, meaning you can't just throw the crop in a barn where birds and mice are getting to it.
Recently, the FDA has begun releasing statements against CBD. It seems like they're gearing up to fight it.
What they're trying to do is manipulate the system so they can control it enough in order for them to lobby and change the laws so they benefit Big Pharma and not us. That's the only reason. But that's why we have to fight. They're afraid of what we're doing because we're smart. We can show the world how to grow our way out of toxic energy and toxic fossil fuels. We are smarter than fossil fuel. We can clean the Earth with hemp.
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For more on Shane Davis, visit Boulder Hemp Farms' Facebook page here
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