Q&A with Morris Beegle, CEO of WAFBA
Morris Beegle is co-founder and president of the We Are For Better Alternatives (WAFBA) family of brands. He is an entrepreneur, business leader, and respected industry thought leader. Under the WAFBA umbrella, Beegle produces hemp-centric events including the NoCo Hemp Expo, the Southern Hemp Expo, and the Winter Hemp Summit. He also publishes the LetsTalkHemp.com media platform. WAFBA has a products division which includes Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars, maker of hand-crafted hemp guitars, cabinets, and components; Tree Free Hemp Paper and Printing; and One Planet Hemp, an online merchandise store for apparel, posters, and accessories.
MGO: How did you get involved in the cannabis and hemp space?
Morris Beegle, CEO of WAFBA: We had just shut down a music business due to the crash of the CD market when internet music was on the rise. We were looking for something else, and in Colorado, cannabis was getting hot on the medical side. In 2012, Colorado legalized recreational use, and farmers were able to grow hemp. We had made some hemp merchandise previously and jumped into the hemp space to see if it would take off. We produced shirts, posters, prints, and started a hemp paper company. In 2014, we started a hemp events and expos company because everything else was squarely focused on marijuana at the time.
MGO: You just produced one of the cannabis/hemp industry’s first in person events in Denver on March 26th and 27th with NoCo Hemp Expo. What was it like?
Beegle: NoCo7 was over 18 months in the works due to the pandemic, which more or less shut down trade shows, conferences, concerts, sporting events and large gatherings for over a year. Finally, getting the industry back together, while still trying to get past Covid-19 and various restrictions in place, was quite a challenge to say the least. That said, it was a show for the books having thousands of hemp industry participants back together under one roof. One of the biggest positives was people really feed off of being together and in person versus interacting via Zoom or social media. There is no truly viable replacement for live in-person events because humans are social creatures.
Governor Polis spoke at it again. He’s participated for the past five or six years. He’s very supportive of cannabis and hemp, so we’re fortunate to have an environment that allows the industry to flourish.
It still comes with the challenges of FDA, DEA, approval, and the oversupply of CBD at this point. Hemp is more than CBD and cannabinoids; it's also fiber and grains. That hasn't really taken off in the United States yet. But, the infrastructure is starting to build out, and our focus has been on building materials, bioplastics, food, and animal feed.
MGO: What are the advantages of hemp as an industrial product? And how about from an environmental and business perspective?
Beegle: The dual crop — fiber and grain — dioecious standard industrial hemp has the most opportunity. We have to get the FDA to approve the grain side of it for animal feed. It's GRASS! It’s generally recognized as safe for human consumption but requires multiple trials for chickens, then different ones for horse, pigs, etc. It’s a very arduous process for animal feed. But, when it happens you can grow it like corn, wheat, or soy in large acreage for the grain side. Then you take the waste side of it for stocks, and it can go into bioplastics, building materials, paper, plastic, and the whole industrial side of things.
That's where the potential is. Dual crop, where you're growing for grain and stock for fiber. There is a company in Montana called IMD Hemp that's gearing up to be the largest industrial hemp processing facility in the country, from both fiber and grain side. They’ve contracted 10,000 acres in 2020 and are looking at 15,000 acres 2021.
Industrial hemp is where I see the long play. And if that's grown in rotation, and grown with organic regenerative practices, it can also do a lot to help clean up our soils, to pull down carbon from our atmosphere, and place it back into the soil. There are so many environmental applications, too. Soy, wheat, and corn farmers also grow hemp. The result is a reduction of pesticide use and other soil destruction.
MGO: Of all industrial and commercial uses, what are you most excited about?
Beegle: I’m excited about the plastics and composites side, and petroleum replacement. I have a hemp paper and plastics company, but I’m really excited about plastics and the potential to replace many environmentally harmful products with hemp-based alternatives. Thousands of products can be produced from fiber and grain.
MGO: The Silver Mountain Hemp Guitars project caught my eye. Tell us about that project.
Beegle: I came from the music industry and have played guitar for many years. I actually ran Canadian Hemp Guitars in Canada and asked if they would start making guitars for me as a private label. Then I found a boutique cabinet maker that had made hemp guitars, but I wasn't able to find consistent board material. Finally, I got material grown and processed in the United States that worked for cabinets, and now they build my guitars in a custom shop. We’ve gone through three prototypes with hemp wood, and we’re ready to start rolling out. We introduced the guitars at NoCo Hemp Expo. emp wood sounds great. Many people are starting to get excited about hemp wood.
MGO: What were your biggest obstacles in 2020?
Beegle: COVID threw in a wrench for sure. Banking has been a problem, credit card processing... Hemp is federally legal, but the industry still faces many problems. The FDA continues to be ambiguous about regulation. Regulation has been chilling on investments, but I believe it will be resolved next year.
The huge rush to CBD and everyone making money meant that the hemp and fiber side hasn't seen as much investment. The CBD bubble started to burst, and I expect to see more of a whole plant industry with focus on fiber and grain in the future. We’ll see where CBD and cannabinoids and smokable hemp flower goes.
When everything really got put into place and was legalized, people were mainly thinking about industrial hemp. The CBD and cannabinoid side of things has made it challenging for Congress and regulators. The true industrial hemp industry has a grain arm, a fiber arm, and a flower arm. That's what's been driving the market, and from a publicity and marketing standpoint, that's been great.
MGO: What were the biggest disruptions in 2020, and how did you adapt?
Beegle: The biggest disruption was cancelling all in-person events. We managed to keep people engaged online, and we were able to build out the Let’s Talk Hemp platform. Now it is a full-blown publishing site with a newsletter and original content.
The disruption allowed for reflection and development of other subsidiaries. The industry really needed to evaluate where it was at, and where it would go. And it was able to do that.
MGO: What was the highlight of 2020 from hemp perspective?
Beegle: The EU and UN is allowing hemp-derived cannabinoids to be utilized as ingredients. From a global standpoint, that’s a positive for the hemp industry, specifically, on the CBD side. Mexico just approved regulations for marijuana. At the end of 2020, the Mexican Senate approved a whole package for legalizing cannabis (rec, med, and industrial hemp), and that opens up the largest legal cannabis market in the world.
MGO: Any predictions for key trends or where the industry is going in the next five years?
Beegle: We will see a true build out of the industrial hemp industry in this country in the next three to five years. The groundwork is really being built now, and the industry is moving away from CBD or CBG and other "hyped" cannabinoids.
MGO: What happens once traditional consumer packaged companies enter the industry? Does hemp become commercialized?
Beegle: Patagonia is making serious efforts in the United States from a hemp textile standpoint. Levi's has already made that commitment and is making hemp guitar straps. We will see larger brands enter the hemp side. Coors Molson is releasing CBD water and the “cola” companies of the world will join once they are more comfortable with FDA regulation.
MGO: Is there anyone you consider a role model, or who is inspiring?
Beegle: Mike Fada is the founder of Manitoba Harvest. David Bronner of Dr. Bronners. Winona LaDuke, who was on the presidential ticket with Ralph Nader.
See more about Morris Beegle and the rest of the Cannabis 50 nominees here.