The hemp renaissance and how not to write a press release

By Barry Randall

As someone who runs a technology fund, these are the good old days. Every day seems to bring another innovation.

From drones and electric cars and flow batteries to virtual currencies, graphene and 3D-printed human organs, we're awash in game-changing technologies moving quickly out of the lab and into the streets. Literally, in the case of self-driving cars.



An extremely versatile plant

So from an investment perspective, the problem isn't finding opportunities; the real challenge is filtering out the good ones from the bad. And here's a secret. Professionals like me have more tools than regular folks, but what we mostly have is experience. Years of reading documents and hearing presentations hone our scanning skills. A Bloomberg terminal has its uses. But so does our Spidey Sense.

Because I'm a student of the up-and-coming, I also notice progress in other areas besides tech.

One hot area is industrial hemp (hereafter referred to as "hemp"). While hemp's genetic cousin marijuana gets more of the headlines and the controversy, non-intoxicating hemp is having a break-out year. This is because of an amendment to the Farm Bill, signed back in February, which granted U.S. universities and colleges the right to grow hemp for research purposes.

This new and limited legal status is expected to expand over time to allow hemp to be grown more widely and without restriction. Already, over $500 million in hemp-based products are being sold annually in the U.S. However, all of these products rely on hemp grown outside our borders. If hemp were able to be grown, harvested and processed entirely within America, then more of the value-added profit would stay here too.

Hemp happens to be an extremely versatile plant. It grows quickly, even in substandard soil. It requires little water and can be processed into food, soap, rope and cloth. A hundred years ago, hemp was a huge crop in the U.S. As recently as World War II, hemp was grown and processed into a uniforms and naval cordage, among other uses. Now, after more than 50 years of being as illegal to grow as pot, hemp is ready for its close-up.