When most people hear the word “hemp,” they typically think of CBD oil, textiles and heavy-duty clothing. CraftAg LLC is looking to add recreational smoking to the list of potential uses for marijuana’s cousin.
The recently formed partnership between CraftAg Enterprises and Seneca Foods Corp. is set to release its first retail product this spring — a pre-rolled hemp flower cigarette — hoping to carve out a niche in a rapidly growing industry. The vertically integrated seed-to-sale company was one of the early participants in Washington state’s hemp pilot program, working with a network of 10 Yakima Valley growers last year to produce, process and sell AromaHemp.
The smokable hemp line promotes relaxation over inebriation and features proprietary seed genetics from Sovereign Fields, a world-renowned hemp seed distributor based in Ashland, Ore. With no chemically addictive properties like nicotine, AromaHemp may even help cigarette smokers quit.
“The whole point of AromaHemp is that it makes you feel relaxed, not high,” said Rory Rawlings, CEO of CraftAg Enterprises, who finalized the deal with Seneca in February. “Consuming CBDs has an immediate calming, de-stressing effect. But we also think our products can offer a way to break the addiction to nicotine and a safer alternative to tobacco.”
CBD stands for cannabidiol, a healing compound found in the hemp plant that promotes healing and is typically extracted into oils. A legal hemp product must contain no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in cannabis that makes users feel high.
Industrial hemp production became more widespread in the U.S. after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and allowed farmers to purchase crop insurance and market their products. That created new market opportunities, including the development of CBD oils and smokable hemp products.
As the CBD extraction industry became saturated, Rawlings believed smokable hemp presented a greater upside. In 2018, he began working with Sovereign Fields so he could deliver their peak hemp genetics to Central Washington farmers.
“What we offer to farmers is boutique hemp seed grown from our local selections,” said Rawlings, whose network of farmers harvested their first AromaHemp crops last fall. “The biggest difference between AromaHemp and industrial hemp is the genetics.”
CraftAg LLC began working with the group of Yakima Valley farmers last year, helping them grow AromaHemp and move it to market. The company is now investing heavily in the future, completing the buildout of a 45,000-square-foot seed and clone propagation facility in Beverly, Wash., which is expected to open later this year.
CraftAg also has started modernizing and repurposing their 270,000-square-foot processing plant in Sunnyside, Wash., where Seneca Foods closed an apple and pear cannery last year. Rawlings had been looking for a location between Yakima and the Tri-Cities where he could dry and process hemp. When he inquired about purchasing the vacant warehouse, Seneca founder Arthur Wolcott became interested in a partnership.
“He really liked the positive impact we were trying to bring to the community, not only helping farmers, but also providing dozens of local jobs,” Rawlings said. “And for us, it was an opportunity that we just had to jump on. We’re still a fairly new company, and we knew Seneca could really help us in all aspects of plant and agribusiness management, as well as lead us into new markets.”
CraftAg LLC had to postpone processing most of its harvest this spring due to the statewide non-essential business shutdown resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. But Rawlings and his team are still looking forward to releasing their second retail product this summer. He expects the new product to catch on quickly as an aid to the millions of Americans trying to quit their addiction to nicotine.
“We’re trying to give people stress relief in a healthier way,” he said. “If you’re feeling anxious or tense, this will calm you without fogging your brain like THC. We see this as a healthier alternative to tobacco that can improve people’s lives in many other ways.”
• This article appeared in the Capital Press in May 2020.