WARSAW — In what some could say was a classic example of government overreach, the U.S. banned the production of industrial hemp in 1937 with the Marihuana Tax Act — likely because the plant was affiliated with its intoxicating cousin, marijuana, — and despite the fact that industrial hemp doesn’t contain enough of the active ingredient in pot to give a hamster the munchies.
But while pony-tailed, bell-bottom-wearing advocates publicly touted the many uses of hemp for decades during its exile from American industry, legislators turned a deaf ear until recently, when the many benefits of both plants began to infiltrate the mainstream mindset.
Indiana is still one of 15 states with no level of legalization for marijuana, but in a proverbial baby step last year, the legislature approved the sale of CBD, or Cannabidiol. With a followup piece of legislation, this time from the federal government, another step in reversing the effects of the eight-decade-old law was taken and provided a local farmer with an opportunity to expand his business while still feeling like he’s helping people.
“The 2018 Farm Bill was passed just after the first of the year,” said local farmer and businessman Don Zolman. “So it’s federal, and it changed industrial hemp from a class one drug — in the same classification as heroin — to make it a legal crop to be produced in all 50 states.”
Zolman, who not only operates Zolman Farms but also TranzStar, a Warsaw-based trucking company, currently sells CBD products out of his western Warsaw office. His brand of CBD oil, Zemp, is available at his trucking company office. His plan is to begin growing industrial hemp for the purpose of producing therapeutic oil.
“I’ll be growing some this year,” Zolman said. “I’m working with a processor who is putting a new plant in Lebanon, Indiana.”
Post-war family business
Zolman Farms began in the 1940s, according to Zolman, when his father, Gene Zolman, returned home from World War II.
“My father was a paratrooper in World War II, and he saw these kids starving in the streets in Europe and having seen that, he decided he wanted to be a farmer,” said Zolman. The senior Zolman and his wife built a house, sold that home and used the profits to buy a 40-acre patch of land to the east of Warsaw.
The Arrival Of CBD
CBD oil flew onto shelves seemingly everywhere following its legalization in Indiana. It comes in a variety of forms, from balms to oil drops to pills. According to Zolman, the product also comes in a variety of quality levels and he thinks he can play a small part in adding some semblance of quality control to the booming market.
“I wanted to make sure that people were getting what they’re paying for, that it’s the real thing,” he said. “One of the main reasons I did this was because there’s a lot of snake oil out there. The worst thing that could happen to somebody is that they buy something that’s not what they’re paying for and they don’t get any relief from it and there’s nothing worse than that.”
High Prices In A Fledgling Market
Proponents of CBD oil and other products derived from hemp say that new benefits from the plant are being discovered all the time. The oil, in all its forms, is reputed to have numerous health benefits, but high prices make access to the supplement highly cost prohibitive.
“I believe eventually it will drop the price of it considerably as the production increases,” said Zolman. “I think it will take probably about a three to five-year period really to drop the price a lot, simply because demand is ramping up at the same time as supply is. So, supply and demand are going to run together for three to five years and someplace in there, we’ll produce enough to more than provide for the demand and then we’ll start seeing the prices start to tail off.”
Hemp oil versus CBD oil
According to Zolman, hemp oil, which presents different benefits from CBD oil, comes from the grain of the industrial hemp plant. CBD oil, however, is processed from the flower and the leaves. Before its ban in 1930, hemp was hugely popular as a material for rope making.
“So it’s an entirely different process and you can buy hemp oil that has very little CBD in it,” said Zolman. For Zolman’s operation, a great deal of government oversight is required to ensure he’s growing the right type of plant. The farm will also be monitored by experts from Purdue University.
“They have to have your GPS coordinates and they’ll be visiting the site and I’ll have a Purdue researcher working with me on the project,” said Zolman, who added that he will be growing the plant for oil in one location and for fiber in another. “So, it’s going to be a secure area and an area that’s monitored and the police will be well aware and involved.”
Stoners Need Not Bother
While Zolman gets in on the ground floor of a “budding” industry designed to create health-related supplements, as well as fiber-related products, he cannot stress enough that his crop will have absolutely no psycho-active effects for anyone who might plan a midnight raid of his plots. Industrial hemp is labeled as such only if it contains no more than .3 percent of Tetrahydrocannabinol, the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high.
“Part of the problem that they’re going to run into if they pick that stuff up and smoke it is they’re going to end up with a headache because the THC level is extremely low,” Zolman said. “Industrial hemp has to be a .3 percent or lower. Most marijuana is going to be in the 20 or 30 percent range.”
Grass Roots Production
Zolman plans to transition from a distributor of the product he currently sells at his trucking company’s business office, to being a producer of his own CBD oil-producing crop. He said his long-term goal will be to also process his crop into oil on sight. According to the long-time local farmer, he is carrying on, with interest, a legacy his paratrooper father began after returning home from war-torn Europe.
“My father, he wanted to start a farm so he could help feed people and now, with raising industrial hemp, we can help heal the world as well,” he said.