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Joy Beckerman: Hemp Industries Association Evangelist


You can’t take the hippie out of Joy Beckerman. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) president became a canna-activist in Grateful Dead parking lots in the early ’90s. “I learned about the social and political injustice of marijuana and of industrial hemp on Grateful Dead tour,” she tells Freedom Leaf.

With her busy schedule, Beckerman doesn’t have the time to attend Dead & Company shows these days, though she did go to the Fare Thee Well concerts in 2015. She has a trade organization to run and presentations to make. Just days before this interview, Beckerman spoke to a large group of attendees at the CannaGather event in New York. At warp-speed, she discussed every aspect of hemp, from science to laws to investment possibilities.

Several days later, Beckerman tells me why she decided to make hemp her life’s work. “If you’re going to be a professional, you’re going to have to specialize and serve your clients and the needs of building either the hemp economy or the marijuana economy appropriately,” she says. “I chose the former.”

Back in her Deadhead days, Beckerman opened a hemp store, Heaven on Earth, in Woodstock, NY. She proudly recalls that “we got a cease-and-desist letter for stamping ‘I GREW HEMP’ on dollar bills.”

After closing up that shop, Beckerman moved to Washington State, where she immersed herself in the new legal marijuana economy there. Unfortunately, the state’s hemp program proved to be a disappointment, and she returned to New York last year. “It doesn’t allow for extraction and there’s no infrastructure to process the seed or the fiber,” she says. “In many ways, extraction is bringing people into hemp.”

“I’m a grassroots activist, that’s what I’ve always been and what I continue to be.”

On the other hand, New York, which she dubs the “Hempire State,” has a robust program. “They put $10 million into the program,” Beckerman explains. “The New York Department of Agriculture is very receptive and wonderful to work with.”

It’s a good time for hemp and CBD production. The 2018 Farm Bill, when it’s passed, will remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and place it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, no longer the DEA.

“It brings hemp up there with other crops and allows it to have federal crop insurance,” she reports. “It expands the definition of hemp to include derivatives, cannabinoids and extracts.”

It will also mean the end of the many state hemp pilot programs. Currently, hemp is legal in 42 states, but remains prohibited federally. The best programs, she says, are in New York, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky and Montana.

Beckerman credits Jack Herer, who wrote the hemp manifesto, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, as her primary inspiration. “He exposed this massive truth about this plant,” she notes. “The knowledge of it was being hidden from us. The Emperor turned my life around. He’s larger than life in my mind.”

Herer would be proud of Beckerman’s dedication to hemp. No one has synthetized his work and beliefs like her. Herer famously would hold court for hours on the subject, that hemp, among other things, could “save the world.” Beckerman channels that energy whether she’s talking to a crowd or conducting a one-on-one interview.

“I’m reaching out and being proactive, as is my nature,” she says. “I’m a grassroots activist, that’s what I’ve always been and what I continue to be.”

On Jack Herer: “The Emperor Wears No Clothes turned my life around. He’s larger than life in my mind.” 

Though there’s some confusion about hemp and CBD, Beckerman embraces both. “I’m so grateful for the energy of the CBD community,” she relates. “The industry leaders for CBD are doing a tremendous job educating. They’re helping to fund a lot of the boots-on-the-ground lobbying to move this plant forward and to clear up ambiguity in laws and regulations around CBD. The citizens of this country deserve to have access to this safe plant.”

The CBD boom is benefitting the HIA, which has grown from 200 members to 800 since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. Beckerman’s also on NORML’s Board of Directors and likes the new direction the organization is heading.

“Due to the tools and resources that we now have in place and the expanded staff NORML has, we’re kicking ass and taking names,” she boasts. “People want to be card-carrying members of NORML. They’re really starting to come out of the closet. It’s a different time now.”

Next for Beckerman is “to continue doing presentations and seminars, more speaking and more education and outreach, and teaching people about manufacturing and good agricultural practices and compliance.”

She’ll bring her considerable speaking skills to MJBizCon at the Las Vegas Convention Center on November 16 for “The Future of Hemp” panel. Expect a fast-paced, good-natured presentation from an industry veteran who got her start on “Shakedown Street.”

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This article appears in Issue 34. Subscribe to the magazine here.