The coronavirus has torpedoed every business and lifestyle in the country this year, but it has brought some benefits, starting with the increased legitimacy of hemp, achieved by its inclusion in federal stimulus funding.
That’s the take of prominent hemp lawyer and lobbyist Courtney Moran, director of the Oregon Hemp Farmers Association, based in Portland.
Hemp achieved legal status in the 2018 Farm Bill, and Moran notes, “it was important for the advancement of hemp to get this clarification from the FDA, especially with CBD moving into the mainstream market.
“Every step the industry can take as a lawful entity is so important. … It’s another signal to the banking industry that we’re legal and here to stay. It’s absolutely still fuzzy with banks dealing with the marijuana (THC) industry. Those banks that have opened up are still charging high fees for them.”
Some companies in the hemp industry have had to downsize “temporarily” and furlough some employees “until it clears up,” Moran says, and some of this has to do with oversupply and decline of prices that are forcing people to produce less this year.
The Economic Injury Disaster Loans (up to $10,000) and Payroll Protection Plan have been helpful, she says, but some in the industry have had difficulty in getting authorization from banks to submit applications, “but overall, those committed to the industry are moving forward, and some companies have seen an increase in online sales of CBD products.”
Hemp farming has been deemed an essential industry and was eligible under the $2 trillion CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, so “it’s business as usual in a lot of ways, and farms have not had to close down due to the virus,” says Sophia Blanton, organizer of Hemp University and a webinar on the stimulus topic.
The pandemic has created a lot of displaced workers, and the hemp-cannabis industry “could provide a good opportunity to pivot, because planting and harvest always require a big work force, and there’s always a labor shortage in Oregon,” says Blanton.
The coronavirus impact has been “major, with some really large companies down 40 to 50 percent,” says Karen Sprague, owner of Hemp Packers, a manufacturer of preroll and other hemp products.
“Dispensaries and CBD stores are down, for the most part,” she adds, “with people afraid of going out of their houses to get CBD products. Online sales are up a little bit. Some offering delivery are more stable. It would seem people need more product in these times, but the reality is getting it to them. People are stuck at home and need relief from anxiety and sleep loss, what with all the changes in the world.”
Hemp farmer Neil Carver, in White City, says the pandemic has made it hard to find employees. Many seasoned workers got $600 a week from Unemployment Insurance, and that’s more than they could make working, he notes.
Carver got $67,000 from SBA stimulus, and that loan turns into a grant if it’s plowed back into payroll.
“Without Payroll Protection, I wouldn’t be planting,” he says. “I’ve got jobs waiting doing flower trimming and getting fields ready to plant.”
Social distancing has changed the business, adds Carver. He tries to enforce the six-foot rule, has hand-washing stations nearby, takes temperatures and bars any sick worker, but “the trim station is an assembly line. It’s almost impossible to get masks. We use gloves for trimming.”
Alex Bizeau, owner of Victory Banner Farms in Talent, says the pandemic put lots of people out on the streets looking for jobs — and he’s able to train them in one day and give them $15 an hour. Most have night jobs, he adds.
Bizeau says the work of germinating and planting already provides a lot of spacing — and the inside job is sticky and dusty enough that they’ve always worn masks and gloves, “so it’s a lot safer than working at McDonald’s. That job is a petri dish. My workers are able to pay bills the last couple months and they really appreciate it, because it’s not easy to find work now.”