Hemp & Hope On Main Street In Wasilla

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Contributed by Josh Fryfogle

Hempire Co. was approved to open their doors on Main Street in Wasilla. Attending a meeting on June 12th for the Wasilla City Planning Commission, I was able to see Hempire Co. overcome quite a bit of opposition, and receive approval for their shop on Main Street in downtown Wasilla.

Here’s the gist of the opposition:
When the State of Alaska first passed the recreational “marijuana” (sic) bill, it was not very well researched, and the nuances of the myriad products that can be derived from the cannabis plant were all lumped together under the 80-year-old racist slang, “marijuana”.

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So, a t-shirt made of hemp fiber, for example, would be marijuana. Seriously.

The opposition, which came from City staff and a handful of local business people, was based completely on this idea that the cannabis plant is only good for one thing, and its name is “marijuana”.

The city code for the downtown area plan had been written with the state law in mind, using that law’s definition of “marijuana”, which also included every product of the cannabis plant.

Since then, the State of Alaska has redefined “marijuana”, excluding industrial hemp. Hempire Co. deals in industrial hemp-derived CBD products, exclusively, and no THC-laden cannabis products. (THC is the compound in cannabis flowers that cause a psychoactive effect.)

The folks at Hempire Co. were basically fighting ignorance last night, and for some, willful ignorance. They seemed right at home doing so, too, since that’s what they’ve been doing successfully since 2016. Dispelling 80 years of propaganda is no easy task, and it was clear last night that they are used to correcting all these misconceptions about CBD, and cannabis in general, when given the chance to be heard.

The City of Wasilla staff argued that the state law, as it was written, should be the rule for all future consideration - regardless of the fact that the state law had since been clarified. They did this with the City lawyer’s approval, who attended the meeting. Even though the legislature has clarified this gross error in the original law, and re-written the law to reflect a more accurate taxonomy of this ancient cultivar plant, the City of Wasilla staff seemed to be leading the charge against this upstart business, further propagating 80 years of misinformation to City residents.

Having read through the complaints from local business owners that were received at the City staff’s urging, and the correspondence between the City and the owners of Hempire Co., it was clear to this writer that bad information begets bad information. The City staff represented, over and over again, that Hempire Co. was “more akin” to a head shop than an artisan shop. What does “more akin” mean? They couldn’t clarify, not at all. They were literally lumping these things together with little-to-no connective tissue. Did I mention that the City’s lawyer was there, and seemed to be part of the confluence of confusion? But I digress.

Hempire Co. sells CDB products that are made on-site, with a level of sophistication that is impressive. They do the research, and provide custom made blends of CBD that can supplement the endo-cannabinoid system that all humans already have. If you have chronic pain, there’s a blend for that. Opiate addiction? That, too. Seizures? That’s a very common ailment that CBD is known to treat with incredible success. The list goes on and on. None of these custom blends have any psychoactive effect at all.

How many people are needlessly suffering today because of a lie that’s been propagated for 80 years? How many people still believe those blatant lies? Clearly, some of the good folks who make up the staff at the City of Wasilla are still bound by lies and propaganda that have been making fools of us for the last 80 years. Even the City lawyer couldn’t seem to understand the differences between cannabis, CBD and so-called “marijuana”. And when you have professional people who are willing to shirk the intellectual responsibility of honest research, then you will have lay people who trust them, and both will be victims of vitriol.

Coca-Cola once had cocaine in it. This is common knowledge, and certainly not up for debate. It’s still in the name, Coca-Cola.

Coca is the plant from which cocaine is derived. Since cocaine was made illegal, they’ve found a way to remove the psychoactive element of the plant from their formula, but they still use the coca leaves to give it that ‘original taste’. If we can differentiate between these two products of the Coca plant, surely we can do the same for the myriad products of the cannabis plant.

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It’s this type of intellectual honesty and nuanced discussion that we should expect from our public employees - not reiteration of bad information. Considering that this bad information is being weeded out of the conversation all over our great nation, you would think these professional people would be at the forefront, but instead we have the fine folks at Hempire Co. trying to fight the good fight, bringing truth to the main-stream, and Main Street.

The strongest opposition to Hempire Co. came from the fine folks at Fiend 2 Clean - a substance abuse treatment program located next door to the Hempire Co. location on Main Street in Wasilla. I imagine that Fiend 2 Clean wanted this location for the same reason that Hempire Co. did, because removing the stigma associated with addiction, and with the cannabis plant that’s been swept up in that same stigma, is their shared goal. However, the people hurt by stigma often become repeaters of the stigma. Ignorance and fear begets ignorance and fear. It’s a hard row to hoe, weeding out the bad info.

They made the argument that the City staff made, that they didn’t understand the difference between “marijuana” and other, non-psychoactive cannabis products, like hemp, and hemp-derived CBD. They put their own ignorance of the topic up like it was a justification for their resistance. That’s exactly how stigma works, and exactly how people continue to stigmatize opiate addicts, keeping them in the back alleys and shadows, where we can ignore their humanity and deprive them of honest consideration.

Perhaps the good people at Fiend 2 Clean and Hempire Co. will find a way to help each other, since I’ve personally met multiple former opiate-addicts who’ve been healed from their addiction and affliction with the help of CBD. Why they would not want to make that effort, even if the evidence is anecdotal, is beyond me. My sincere hope as a community member is that they will do the research, and get to know their new neighbors. They are truly helping many of the same people, with the same problems.

CBD has no, I mean absolutely no psychoactive effect. Abstinence-only drug rehab programs like Fiend 2 Clean should be embracing this growing industry, not perpetuating the stigma that they themselves have been made a victim of. For the sake of my community, I sincerely hope that they will.

Buddy Whitt, senior staff for Senator Shelley Hughes, made an appearance as well. He did not directly endorse or support the issue at hand, but did lend his expertise on the topic of industrial hemp, and the differentiation between that and what the State of Alaska now defines as “marijuana”. Whitt did much of the research on Senator Hughes’ recent industrial hemp bill, and commented that Hempire Co. was engaging in exactly what that bill was written to allow, the cultivation and production of products derived from industrial hemp. He brought clarity to the conversation, and offered to respond to any questions that the city planning commissioners might have. One must wonder, why did the City staff, including their own lawyer, not reach out to Senator Hughes’ office for clarification, before perpetuating information that was clearly in contradiction to the law of the land? It seems that the City staff’s effort was not to inform the citizens of Wasilla, but was “more akin” to purposeful misinformation.

Danny O’Barr made an impassioned plea to allow the shop to open, at times in tears. Mr. O’Barr is in his mid-70s, and suffers from multiple ailments after a botched surgical operation. The pain that came from that surgical mishap led Danny to an opiate addiction, and he testified that CBD - and specifically the folks at Hempire Co. - were the only help he found to get through the pain of a broken hip, and the opiate addiction that followed, both of which the medical professionals hoisted upon him. Hearing the emotion in his voice was a powerful testimony indeed, and his demographic certainly broke the stigma associated with addiction and cannabis use.

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I had to leave after my own testimony, as the meeting approached 9pm. However, the meeting marched on until nearly 11pm, with many local supporters of Hempire Co. there to lend their voices to the continued fight against willful ignorance and propagation of bad information. I received a text at 11pm, after I was asleep, telling me that the City of Wasilla Planning Commission had approved Hempire Co., despite the recommendation from City staff that they not. They had clarified, there in that meeting, what the City staff along with their lawyer apparently could not. I am glad to see that this fight is right, and that reasonable people are beginning to accept that stigmas of any kind should be held under the greatest scrutiny - and I was proud to be surrounded by people who were willing to face that stigma head-on, on the public record.

Soon enough Hempire Co. will be up and running on Main Street in Wasilla, just across from the Dorothy Page Museum, and it fills my heart that humanity is taking back our shared history of hemp and hope.

I’m working on a campaign in this same vein, Weed Out. Please consider liking that page for more information, as the People continue to Weed Out The Cannabis Conversation.