100% American Grown Organic Hempseed is a Crowning Achievement for John Roulac
This story has been licensed from Organic Insider. To read the full newsletter or to subscribe, please visit Organic Insider. Authored by Max Goldberg on 2/28/18.
Last year at Natural Products Expo West, Nutiva unveiled the very first USDA certified organic MCT oil.
At next week’s show, it will be launching another first-of-its-kind product – a bag of 100% American grown organic hempseed.
To the casual observer, this may seem less innovative than cracking the code on how to deliver an organic MCT oil, a feat that took Nutiva more than two years to figure out.
But for Nutiva founder John Roulac, this American grown organic hempseed product has much greater significance because it has been the driving force of his life for the last twenty years, a mission that could have landed him in federal prison.
A lifelong environmentalist who saw hemp as both an important crop to improve soil health and to fight against weeds, John lobbied on behalf of hemp in Congress and in different states in the 1990s. While legal to import hemp, it was illegal for hemp to be farmed in the U.S. without a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) permit, as per the Controlled Substances Act of 1970; a strange circumstance considering that our Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were both hemp farmers.
But writing articles, giving talks and educating politicians about hemp was just not enough.
“Lobbying was not going to get us to grow hemp in the U.S., and I was stubborn. So, that’s why I started Nutiva — with 500 hemp bars — to show that there was market demand for hemp in America. The goal was to get leaders in the U.S. to support growing hemp here, instead of just importing it from Canada,” said John Roulac.
In 1999, a few months after Nutiva released its hemp bars, the U.S. Customs Service claimed that the company could no longer import hemp-food products and had to return them to Canada.
For the following two years, which included a major PR victory when Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Jack Anderson wrote a high profile story about this issue, Nutiva was in a constant fight with several government agencies, who flip-flopped numerous times about the legality of this product. Needless to say, retailers at the time were both scared and confused about carrying hemp-food products, so many of these stores decided to drop them altogether.
But things took a very serious turn when in October of 2001, a few weeks after 9/11, the U.S. DEA published in the Federal Register that hemp was a schedule I drug — the same as heroin. Going against the government, at a time when the entire country was rallying behind it because of the terrorist attacks just the month before, was not exactly a popular move.
Nevertheless, John Roulac was undaunted.
“I believed that I was not doing anything wrong and had all of my net worth into this. So, I sued the federal government,” said the outspoken Nutiva founder.
According to John Roulac, the lawsuit was initially Nutiva vs. the DEA. Because of Nutiva’s geographic location in California, the case was allowed to be heard in the 9th Circuit, a critical component of the legal strategy. Then, it switched to the Hemp Industries Association (HIA) — which included Dr. Bronner’s, Nature’s Path, Organic Consumers Association and others — vs. the DEA.
The legal situation was incredibly complex, but the potential ramifications for John Roulac, if he lost the case and continued selling hemp, were quite clear.
“I remember being in the hot springs one day thinking about what would happen if we didn’t win the lawsuit. With about 90% of my revenues coming from hemp products, it would have crushed Nutiva and we probably would have gone out of business. Or, if I kept selling hemp products, I would have been violating the Controlled Substance Act for transporting and selling thousands of pounds of a schedule I drug. That would have landed me in jail for a decade,” he acknowledged.
Fortunately, the HIA prevailed, securing two important legal victories, the last one being in 2004. From that point on, the industry could start selling imported hemp products with no additional worries.
However, for John Roulac, this wasn’t enough. His vision was for organic hemp to be grown in the U.S., and he continued his fight, albeit outside of the courtroom.
On February 7, 2014, President Obama signed the Farm Bill of 2013 into law, which provided for schools or state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research or pilot program purposes. However, states had to have their own legislation which would fully allow farmers to grow hemp. Since the signing of the 2013 Farm Bill, there has been a big push for this to happen, with Colorado, Kentucky, North Dakota and Oregon as the most prominent states to take action.
Having spent the last few years building a network of U.S. organic farmers, all of whom agreed to start growing hemp, John Roulac and Nutiva are finally ready to unveil their first bag of 100% American-grown, organic hemp seeds.
“We’ve been working for 15 years to change the laws and really wanted to bring more of the market here — to have American farmers participate. It’s critical to have companies like John’s in the market. Farmers won’t keep growing hemp unless there is someone to buy it. This is a very significant event,” said Eric Steenstra, President of Vote Hemp.
“Being able to source American hemp at the quantity required for Nutiva’s distribution is what’s really impressive. John is a pioneer in the hemp industry, and his vision for what the future of hemp could be is only now starting to be realized,” said Lauren Stansbury, Director of Communications for the Hemp Industries Association.
By introducing this American-grown organic hemp into the marketplace, Nutiva could not only help spur demand for this product among consumers, but it may encourage other companies to use this ingredient or to start selling it in bags as well.
Either way, it’s a win for John Roulac, even if competition does emerge.
More farmers in the U.S. growing organic hemp means the environment is moving in a better direction, with improved soil health and less chemical use.
“In 1991, we lost a campaign to ban logging of the forests in California, and I was devastated. At that moment, I made a promise to the universe to do something positive and walk through whatever door was in front of me. I wasn’t going to be stupid, but I was willing to take risks. And that brought me to hemp,” said John Roulac.
Next week at Nutiva’s booth at Natural Products Expo West will be the realization of twenty years of work, determination and a willingness to put everything on the line.
It’s incredibly inspirational and a remarkable journey.
John Roulac deserves tremendous credit.