Garrett Graff is the Managing Attorney for Hoban Law Group, a full-service law firm based in Denver, CO, that serves the marijuana and hemp industries.
How did you get involved in the hemp industry?
I kind of fell into it without knowing what I was getting into at the time. Medical marijuana was all the rage in Colorado. It was the turning point for the start of the recreational or adult use marijuana market and hemp was this thing that very few people knew about at that point in time.
My interest primarily was in general business legal services, business law, corporate law, real estate law, etc. The industry itself looked particularly exciting. At that time, the focus was primarily on marijuana as opposed to hemp. This was the burgeoning era of the 2014 Farm Bill — you were seeing companies importing. What was really the hook for us in terms of our interest was the utility advantage of hemp as opposed to marijuana.
From your perspective as a lawyer, what’s the difference between the hemp and marijuana industries?
In the marijuana industry so many people see green for a variety of reasons, but there is a singular utility, and you are producing products to be consumed to get “high.” While there are definitely products for therapeutic purposes, it has the psychoactive component.
On the hemp side, there is just so much more opportunity. We’re in the midst of this CBD craze where everyone is so excited about all of these various consumer-based products. In five or ten years, you’re going to start to see the other one-hundred-plus cannabinoids that are found naturally occurring in hemp.
Hemp creates novel opportunities to speak with mass market retailers, to speak with legislators, to speak with all sorts of people from all walks of life when for too long it has been stigmatized with cannabis or marijuana a part of the War on Drugs and not understood. Now we can distinguish hemp from that.
Why do you think hemp was coupled with cannabis for so long?
Since 1937 there have been these absurd deviations and distinctions and definitions between hemp and marijuana. It was in this year that they distinguished the flowers, leaves and resin as marijuana as compared with the stalk stems fibers herd and non-viable seed. That was how you distinguished between the two. But by virtue of distinguishing different parts of the same plant, you could grow only certain parts of the plant.
When the controlled substances act came in 1970 and marijuana was antagonized by the Federal Government, it was all a part of the same cannabis plant and there was no way to functionally distinguish between marijuana and hemp, at least domestically speaking.
What is one challenge with this new industry and what is the most exciting?
The most exciting part is the novelty of this. It’s exciting to be blazing new frontiers from a business and legal perspective and it’s exciting to see the real benefit and impact that this is having on people’s lives. The challenge is that we’ve caught people’s attention as an industry. It’s all the rage, but the challenge going forward is going to be creating a reconcilable regulatory structure that is amenable and business-friendly.
How can we create reconcilable policies and in doing so, understand that we’ve been able to go so far as an industry flying to some extent, under the radar. Now that we are out of the shadows and above the radar and heading to Congress to speak with the FDA and the USDA hearings, we now have to reconcile hemp into all of the other conventional mechanisms.
This is something we’ve long sought as an industry — to be compared to existing agricultural commodities and existing food additives.
As part of the reconciliation process, there are things that we benefited from, like legality, certainty, but we are going to have to compromise on other things, like how hemp products will reconcile pharmaceuticals and FDA drugs. Figuring out how all of these dividing lines happen and what the pathway for hemp is going forward, that will ultimately determine how quickly this industry flourishes and jumps into the next frontier.
What are you most excited about going forward?
There’s an exciting opportunity to put products on the market that really change people's lives. In terms of what’s next, we’ll start to see innovation using the hemp plant, with the potential to disrupt so many different industries, in terms of providing higher quality products — whether that be hemp cream or hemp for housing, more durable goods like textiles, and more environmentally friendly products...disrupting plastics with hemp bioplastics — there is so much opportunity that has yet to be tapped. That’s the most exciting part. And working with really interesting innovators along the way.