SHERIDAN — While the ink has barely dried on House Bill 171, at least one local entrepreneur has already entered the hemp market opened to the state by legislation Gov. Mark Gordon signed March 6.
House Bill 171 regulates hemp, cannabidiol and other controlled substances, removing hemp and hemp products from the Wyoming Controlled Substances Act and authorizing hemp production and processing under the authority of the Department of Agriculture. PJ Treide, an entrepreneur well known for his leadership of Sheridan-based Bighorn Design Studio, sees the passage of the legislation as an opportunity for economic development and diversity in the state.
Treide now holds the role of business development lead for Able Holdings, which he described as a full-service, vertically designed Sheridan business aimed at bringing hemp production and value-add products to the global market.
Already, the company is fulfilling orders for hemp products from Sheridan. While the hemp for the products is not currently grown or processed in the state, Treide said he has commitments from potential growers in Sheridan and Johnson counties who are just waiting for permits to be issued to plants seeds in the ground. He’s also fielding phone calls from others interested in diversifying their crops.
Treide pointed out that his company doesn’t want to grow hemp, but will work with and advise growers on the strains and amount of hemp needed for processing, extraction and product development — aspects of the industry in which Able Holdings will participate. He also envisions being able to handle fulfillment for other companies, much as he does through Bighorn Design Studios.
During the legislative session, the WDA was working on developing a plan, rules, fee schedule, applications and other necessary documents to implement a regulatory program for industrial hemp in Wyoming. With the signing of HB171, the WDA has 30 days to submit a plan to the United States Department of Agriculture to request delegated authority for the regulation of industrial hemp.
“With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and the work of the Legislature throughout the session, we have been working hard on the industrial hemp program to make sure we are ready when the time comes to implement a program here in Wyoming,” said Doug Miyamoto, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, in a press release. “If we are legally able to do it, we are anxious to start a hemp program in Wyoming to provide more opportunities for our producers and processors with this productive, diversifying permitted crop across the state.”
According to the WDA, the USDA recently stated that it will hold state plan submissions until federal rules are put into effect in the fall. The state is now assessing its legal authority to issue permits prior to USDA review of Wyoming’s industrial hemp plan.
“Even though hemp is legal, just like explosives, there are regulatory processes that need to go with it,” said Christine Bekes, executive director of Powell Economic Partnership.
Bekes has helped shepherd the conversations around legalizing hemp forward over the last couple years. She has also organized the Focus HEMP Summit planned for April. The event aims to answer the question of what happens next in moving the hemp industry into production in Wyoming.
“From the business and industry side, regardless of whether permits are issued right away, we can’t neglect the opportunity to learn about an industry we don’t know a lot about yet,” Bekes said, adding that doing that work now can help Wyoming more quickly start growing hemp when permits are issued.
Bekes and Treide both emphasized the broad range of products that can be made from hemp.
While CBD oil is popular now, thousands of other products could also be produced, including hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, fabrics and clothing, beauty products, paneling for automobiles, paper and more. Beke said she envisions Wyoming producing niche products rather than volume-based products.
Treide stressed that the products his company is already selling have no THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. He also noted that he is not in favor of marijuana being legalized, in part because marijuana can create cross-pollination issues with hemp.
While the industry has barely gotten started in the state, Treide and others hope hemp can become another way for Wyoming to diversify its economy through innovation while relying on skills many Wyoming residents already have in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.