GREENSBORO, N.C. — Hemp is a growing industry. Experts estimate by the year 2025, the industrial hemp market could grow to more than $26 billion. But less than one percent of the people involved in growing and selling legal cannabis are people of color. A program at North Carolina A&T State University is working to change that.
“A lot of people, when they hear hemp, they automatically think of marijuana but they don’t know there’s literally a scientific definition between the two of them,” senior Ke’Shan Lighty said.
One is illegal in North Carolina. The other is a budding industry.
“The hemp, you can make oil out of it, you can make clothing out of it, you can make plastic out of it. You can make building materials out of it. It’s a superfood as well, so it’s a lot of things you can do with it,” Lighty said.
Lighty is part of A&T’s Industrial Hemp Research Program. There aren’t a lot of people who look like him in the industrial hemp space.
“I have come across some of our people who are in the industry,” he said. “But as of right now, it’s not too many.”
According to the National Hemp Association, Black and Hispanic people make up just 10 percent of cannabis business ownership.
“The overall goal of this program is to build research capacity among the scientific community and also to help the small-scale farmer so they can adopt this emerging multipurpose crop,” Dr. Arnab Bhowmik said.
Bhowmik leads the Industrial Hemp Research Program. Students do research at the University Farm to find best practices for growing hemp. Their outreach focuses on small-scale farmers, mainly minorities. Hemp can be a major cash crop. But it’s an expensive risk.
“So once the THC, which is a psychoactive compound, if it goes beyond .3 percent that is not legal. So you need to burn the crop,” Bhowmik says.
There’s a push for diversity in the industry. The National Hemp Association lists several reasons. One reason is breaking down the stigma that for a long time has linked minorities and cannabis use. People of color are also largely excluded when it comes to states licensing cannabis operators. And diversifying could open the industry up to more consumers and dollars.
“The CBD industry and the hemp industry is going to go crazy within the next few years. If you look at the history of hemp, just in America, the $10 bill used to be made out of hemp. Columbus’ sails were made out of hemp,” Lighty said. ” I want to start a company…Negro farmers are a rare commodity nowadays. Hopefully, that’ll be on the rise.”
And Lighty is here for it.