“Go back to the basics, learn your history, learn the rules, so that you can break them properly.” - Etienne Fontan
Welcome back to the To Be Blunt podcast! In this episode, Shayda Torabi talks with Etienne Fontan about the Cannabis industry’s rich history, BPG medical cannabis, using hemp fiber and hemp textiles, and so much more.
[00:01 – 15:14] Etienne Shares His Experience in Cannabis
[15:14 – 33:55] Hemp Fiber and The Lack of Needed Infrastructure
[33:56 – 50:13] How We Can Cut Through the Sensationalism and Properly Educate the Masses on Cannabis
[50:14 – 57:19] A Little History on Hemp Genetics and Ridiculous Legalization Rules
[57:20 – [1:00:09] The Reality of What Hemp Farming Needs to Become
[1:00:09 – 1:02:15] Final Words
Etienne is Vice President and Co-Owner of Berkeley Patients Group (BPG). BPG is the nation's oldest, and most respected medical cannabis dispensary, established in 1999. For two decades, Etienne has helped position BPG as a model medical cannabis dispensary, with a vision to lead the emerging industry as it expands, evolves, and becomes more professional. He has founded medical and recreational cannabis retail, cultivation, and processing facilities in Berkeley, Emeryville, Incline Village, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Reno, Sparks, and West Hollywood.
Mr. Fontan has an extensive background as an engaged activist and public speaker, seeking to make cannabis legal and safe. Starting in 1993, he was a director of the Cannabis Action Network and traveled through 47 U.S. states speaking at rallies, teach-ins, and tours, and reaching out to the general public on all cannabis-related issues. He is a combat veteran of the first Gulf War and now lobbies on the veteran’s behalf for the use of cannabis to treat PTSD and post-war injuries.
Mr. Fontan is a founding board member who served on the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Board of Directors from 2010 to 2020, including as Board Chair from 2012-2013.
Connect with Etienne on Instagram (@my.bpg) and visit his website https://www.mybpg.com/
Shayda Torabi has been called one of the most influential Women in WordPress and now she’s one of the women leading the cannabis reformation conversation building one of Texas’ premier CBD brands. She's currently the CEO and Co-Founder of RESTART CBD, a female-run education first CBD wellness brand. And has formerly held marketing positions at WP Engine and WebDevStudios. Shayda is the host of a podcast for cannabis marketers called To Be Blunt, where she interviews top cannabis brands on their most successful marketing initiatives. When Shayda's not building her cannabiz in Texas, you can find her on the road exploring the best hikes and spots for vegan ice cream. Follow Shayda at @theshaydatorabi
“There's a whole bunch of progress around CBD and hemp. But there's still so much more. I've seen the potential, but unfortunately because of the problems currently inherent in the CBD and hemp system, if it does not invest in its infrastructure, shortly, we will see a collapse of the CBD industry the same way we saw the hemp industry at the end of the 90’s.” - Etienne Fontan
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Etienne Fontan 0:00
There's Mills down there in Louisiana, where all those old sugarcane mills are back in the 90s. I figured about 100 million per, because they're used to processing huge 13 foot plus stocks. Okay, so there's crushing machinery that's there. And you could retool machineries for around 100 million to 500 million as opposed to spending a billion dollars you know what I'm saying because there's some of that infrastructure there but the rest of that old infrastructure we have dismantled melted down, or we sold directly to South America to jute factories, and we're buying all that jute and sizes and stuff all from our old factories that are literally done there. So this is your history, people that you need to realize that we have to fix if you want to see a viable hemp industry here in the United States, because I love CBD but there's a lot of farmers could do a lot better growing hemp for all these other different methods and methodology. If there was an infrastructure there if
you're listening to To be blunt, be podcast for cannabis marketers, where your host Shayda Torabi and her guests are trailblazing the path to marketing, educating and professionalizing cannabis light one up and listen up. Here's your host Shayda Torabi.
Shayda Torabi 1:31
Hello, and welcome back to a new episode of The To be blunt podcast. I'm your host Shayda Torabi, and I hope you all are her ready for a treat. My guest today is a very long term cannabis advocate, business owner, voice in the community and just someone who has been involved in a lot of different facets and components of the cannabis industry that you might not be familiar with him directly, but I'm certain that you have heard or been impacted by actions and things that he has been a part of. So I really am looking forward to sharing this episode with y'all today. And my guest is at tn Fontanne. He is the Vice President and co owner of Berkeley patients group it is the nation's oldest and most respected medical cannabis dispensary that was established in 1999. Holy shit, that is long time. And I think what was more remarkable to me was when I sat down with Etienne was obviously trying to get a better understanding of what has gone into his journey, how he got to Berkeley patients group, how he became an owner. He wasn't one of the original owners and kind of what he's done in his career to kind of get him to that point. And then kind of how has he leveraged his position in the industry to further advocate on behalf of cannabis. And that just opened up a wealth of stories and history and knowledge that attend has just lived through in his lifetime. Kind of in addition to being the VP and co owner of Berkeley patients group. He also has a very extensive background as an activist and public speaker. He was the director of the cannabis Action Network and traveled through 47 different states speaking at rallies, teachings, tours, etc. He's lobby locally at a state level and at a federal level. And he has just so many other nuances to his journey that have really obviously impacted the cannabis industry at large. One story in particular that he gets into into the podcast is around hemp fiber and hemp for clothing and kind of the excitement and plateau and kind of some of the challenges that that side of the hemp industry has gone into. My intention was totally to cover more of the bPg medical cannabis side of the conversation but because of attends role throughout all these different you know, aspects of his career, he's seen a lot of the hemp side and obviously being here in Texas and hemp is really all we have to play with for the time being. He was giving me a lot of good history lessons. And it was really eye opening and also really cool to learn all these things from someone who has lived through it. And so I'm just really grateful to have had the chance to sit down with him and to be able to present this episode to you. Like I said, you are in for a treat. He is a wealth of knowledge and just has a heart of gold and someone who really truly does want to see the industry.
tree, you know, accepted and normalized. And obviously from a medical perspective, the plant has helped so many people just through his doors alone. And so for sure, being a great advocate and voice of our industry, I just I can't be more grateful for his contributions and for the chance to get to learn a little bit from him directly. So, without further ado, I'm going to let him introduce himself and we're going to kick this conversation off. I look forward to hearing from y'all what your takeaways are, because I certainly learned so much myself. So without further ado, let's welcome et tn to the show and dive right in.
Etienne Fontan 5:38
My name is Etienne Fontanne. I am the Vice President and Director of Berkeley patients group, the nation's oldest continuously operating medical dispensary. We're about to turn 22 years in October. I myself am a Medical Cannabis Patient. I'm also a combat veteran. For me. My first experience with cannabis was crappy Mexican grown, Mexican quality black seeds probably pressed with Coca Cola. I was 16 and a friend of mine. We had been working on sets for plays. I worked on high school plays as well as I think we're working on a little theater play for the local I grew up in rare rural Louisiana. I grew up up 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of Cajun country. 100 miles from New Orleans. 40 miles from Lafayette, no cannabis. So for myself, when I was first asked what pot was I think I was 12 was like, that's what my mom cooks out of right? And somebody asked me, yo, you don't know what to join us. Like, yeah, that's the thing in my elbow, right. And they just kind of laughed at me. So they realize don't turn this kid on. So when I was 16, I tried cannabis for the first time, I don't think I got high one. I didn't know what to expect. But I just think the pot was just too crappy. So it wasn't until I went to college in West Virginia, where I was going to West Virginia University via the GI Bill because I joined the West Virginia Army National Guard. And that's how I was able to afford going to college was I actually turned on to real green cannabis, of which, needless to say, changed my life and lifestyle. But fortuitously was jack career of the Emperor wears no clothes, who came to my university in 1989. And that's what really kicked off my journey into cannabis education. They had showed up these hippies, and they were gonna have this discussion on pot. And I was so paranoid because I was kind of a pot dealer at college, because the GI Bill will cover you know, your college, but it will not cover any of your expenses. And I was an art student. So, you know, art is very expensive. So I had to work and have jobs to you know, afford all the things I needed to and cannabis was very helpful. So it taught me the metric system, as well as business when I had no business so I became an independent contractor, so to say, so when I heard there was going to be a rally in Morgantown, West Virginia, I was paranoid, because it's a very small town, usually about 10,000 people with the university 40 to 50,000. So it was going to be on the quad, which of course, it was very open and exposed. And I was so paranoid, and I went anyway, because the drummer of my band is in a band at the time said, We're going down there, we're gonna smoke this joint, and he rolled the crappiest big hog leg of crap. I mean, it's all we had was just again, not very good cannabis. And we went down there. And we proceeded to burn that joint with about cannabis on the quad. So I was absolutely paranoid the entire time. But I picked up a copy of the Emperor wears no clothes. And I then chose to do my English 101 class paper on why cannabis should be legal. And I got in trouble because I could only cite two periodicals because that's all that was accessible at the time, which was High Times Magazine, and the Emperor wears no clothes, because you try going to any library in college and finding any books on cannabis, or weed or pot in the actual library itself. They were checked out decades ago, and we're never checked back in. So for me, I started off as kind of an annoying guy who would go to parties. And when we get high, I'd start talking all this stuff. You know, one acre of hands equals four acres, you know, trees and to a point where my girlfriend broke up with me because all you do is go to parties and talk about this pot stuff. I realized how to kind of a gift to gab. And when I got activated for the Desert Storm, and my unit was not only a artillery unit, it was one of the best artillery units in the United States Army and I found myself at attached to the French Foreign Legion on the front lines in the Gulf War, which we served alongside them within four battles, and survived them all. And I sustained some injuries over by El bosnia after the ceasefire, and I had heatstroke, I literally died. And it turned out I was diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome, or now Gulf War illness, which was nuclear, biological and chemical exposure, any elements and my body collapsed, my immune system was like, see later, we're out of here. And I find myself hospitalized with a wasting syndrome. After I came back home, I came back was on the streets was just feeling sick. I couldn't get up. I couldn't make it to band practice at four in the afternoon, because I was so incapacitated. And thankfully, I had cannabis and access to cannabis which stimulated my appetite, which, you know, got me going. And so once I realized this plant was saving my life, I was going through a very confusing time. So I was an alcoholic. Basically, I was drinking up to a fifth of jack daniels the night and I realized that I needed to get out of Morgantown, I needed to change my life and my habits. So my best friend at the time, said, I'm going to California in two weeks, come with me and initially said no, but then said yes. And came out to California. And shortly after being in California, I was walking down the street and heard this guy barking cannabis Action Network come to our first meeting. And I walked by the stand they had a kind of a legalization stand with grow books and information and T shirts, all pot related. And the guy was like, yeah, we're having our first inaugural meeting. We're gonna have Dr. Todd MC Korea speak. Why don't you come on down and join us? So I went there. And the friends I was with were like, let's get out of here. And let's listen. And so we went, we sat, we listened. And Dr. Todd was a former veteran, as well as he had compiled a book called The medical marijuana papers, which is a huge book of a compendium of all research done by the federal government on cannabis. And he said on the spot, look, I don't have any Desert Storm veterans, why don't I become your doctor, I'll recommend you your cannabis for you. So you can have, you know, legal protection. And this is before 215. So I was amazed. And so by working with the cannabis Action Network, of which I was a volunteer, they were a bunch of college students that got together and work with Czech career started going around to free speech areas, at universities, and basically getting people involved starting chapters. So we would just find somebody at that university, who was active who felt that they could be actively involved started a student chapter, and they would start a student chapters that we would provide them. Back in the day we originally carried around a master folder of what we call the Masters which were basically copies of jack Herrera's book and other information that we would make a copy for them and then give them a master so that they could go to Kinko's, make copies, and then they become a local organizer, we keep in touch in contact with them. And we did this organically. So chemists Action Network, let me volunteer with them. And they afforded me the opportunity to travel through 47 US states, doing rallies, teachings and tours at universities all over in different cities was amazing. So we basically educated people about their first rights, the first amendment rights, or so, we were harassed. We were, you know, dealt with by the police in very unique ways. I traveled with actually one of the patients who receives medical marijuana from the United States government. Yes, that's right. United States government has been producing medical marijuana at the University of Mississippi at Oxford for 4050 years now since the 70s. patient zero was Robert Randall, and then I traveled with the first woman who was lv musika. And the DEA delivers them a tin of 300 joints a month. Still to this day of Mexican grade quality of about four to 5% THC that is ground with seeds and stems and then rolled in a palm on all palm oil machine. They actually bought one of their old rolling machines so they actually receive a tin of joints pre roll for them. There's no filter on and it smells horrible. It's just not very good cannabis. It actually failed molds and mildews tests. I know cuz I tested it. I was also a pioneer in testing in the United States because back in the day, there was no testing for cannabis. So I got involved in did that's for a later story. So cannabis Action Network before Give me the opportunity to go out and educate people on how to tour and as we call it hemp tour back in the day. And after two years of doing that I was burnt out and Steve DeAngelo had a company called evolution hemp company. And so I offered to work for him since I had just traveled throughout the United States and I knew all the little hemp shops all over the country because they all came out to the rallies. And so I knew them by name. So it was fortuitous for him to hire me and my girlfriend at the time, because she had also done a 40 state rally tour with me so she was also well educated. So we worked on importing and exporting hemp clothing, all the hemp twine that you saw back in the 90s. That was us. We invented the hemp genes 100% hemp gene, and we imported hemp paper, and all kinds of stuff. So it was very fascinating working in Eastern Europe because it is different than the hemp industry that we know today because we were strictly dealing with fiber and bio mass because the you know, the herd we used for paper. So we imported the paper, archival style all the way down to printer paper. And that was just again, all these things were just too expensive. The problem is that, you know, Eastern Europe is landlocked, which means everything had to be moved. So if we grew in Hungary and the Czech Republic and Romania, then we would have to ship to border, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania is where we'd got all of our hemp, we'd have to ship it to Hungary, for certain proportions of manufacturer have to ship it for Romania, for the tooling. And by the time all the different products were finally combined into one gene. To import it, the United States was a couture price between 90 and $100. wholesale. It was just very expensive. And this is non cognized hemp This is Eastern Europe does it by huge biomass. So people were I'm talking as we took 300 to 400 seed of consulte per square meter, we would get that from either the consulting Institute or the Vavilov Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia. So we got you know, acclimated seeds, which is a big problem that people are having in the hemp community. But since we were dealing specifically in fiber, we had acclimated poultry fiber that was the genetic that we were growing. And so we would have 300 400 seed per square meters. So we had a full self competing canopy of long strong fiber and then they would actually water read it, they would not field read it. If you field read hemp in the sense where you let it leave it to dry. In the field. Depending on where you are in Europe, such as in Poland, when it field rats, it turns grain from just the natural lignin weilding away and the bacteria that are happening, it turns it gray, whereas in Eastern Europe, when we would actually soak it in huge bath, and then peel the fiber off, it would stay a golden brown. And of course that was much easier. We didn't have to bleach it and all these different things. So it led to a lot of environmental understanding of how products that are made for what the consumer wanted versus what we're able to provide. The hemp that we were able to provide was still enzyme washes and things like that. So we were very fortunate that we had a bunch of professors come out from the fascist Institute of Technology, and work with us because there's very few times in their lifetimes that they get to work with a new fiber or a new product. And these gentlemen all live off of patents, all these professors there at fashion strip technology have created all the patents that all of your Levi's jeans all license from them. And so they were applying so they showed us how to actually take hemp from an actual gene and pull it out to actually prove that was hemp. So even how it unspun counter clockwise, which you actually pick the fiber and plucked it like that it should unwind counterclockwise to show that it was actually true natural hemp if it was other types of ways. So they showed us all these different methods and methodologies and how to work within and how to handle this fiber. But they basically showed us that we had to basically kill what we had with enzyme washes to make it as soft as the cotton that people wanted. And of course, then that would degrade the Hamp. Whereas you know, we had skydivers that would tell us if I jump out of an airplane in my regular Levi's jeans, I get two to four jumps, tops before the flapping just destroys my genes. Whereas I jump out of an airplane and your hemp genes. I can jump out for 20 plus times and I still do not get the unraveling. So it taught us about how weather resistant hemp was of course remember all the ships were all made with the hemp mass and they all shipped with hemp seeds in case they crash. They could grow new sales and cordage on the spot. So there's a huge aspect of hemp that your audience is probably hearing about. Learning about and I have to chastise you CBD manufacturers and I love what you're doing I love CBD as part of my medicine and appreciate it. Here in California however I cannot carry hemp products from CBD made into my store which is again stupidity and ignorance but this is the world that we live in. We need you have growers and producers to invest in the infrastructure here in the United States. There are no decor to caterers. There are small decor to cater companies and manufacturers. There's large manufacturers like gardella in Italy that produce machinery that will pop the fiber straight off. So you have a nice fine and green, you know what I'm saying? It's just there are not plants here in the United States where there needs to be I grew up in southern Louisiana in sugar cane country surrounded by hundreds of 1000s of hectares of sugarcane. And there are Mills Central and around these grow areas. And there are by areas where there's actually depot's where they actually can go and buy and sell their products legally. They have industry does not have this. They have industry needs steak industries, where you actually have actual oversight of people in the industry, not a bunch of hawks sitting there trying to scare people, you need to build the infrastructure. So you've got distribution centers, but most importantly, you have to build Mills, you have to invest in paper mills, you have to invest in making hemp fabric and fiber there's plastic that can be melted made from the cellulose I know I've seen it I've dealt with the patents and I've played with people who have played with it so that people are growing these happen spacing them out four to six feet, a piece is terrible injustice to this plant for the biomass that we could be producing the seeds, the seed oils, etc that we could be producing my friends up in Canada very successful and I buy Manitoba hemp oil to this day, which I still use because if you know hemp oil has omega three, six and nine more digestible protein then you know, soybeans so there's a whole aspect that you farmers are being one you're being killed for the price is what you have to pay for. CBD sees that I saw pails and somebody paid a million dollars for the earliest pails of seeds which is astronomical and should not be that type of price and pricing. It's cost prohibitive of course as we know as we see you've got a large influx of CBD which is completely collapsed the market in itself. We've got a whole bunch of charlatans and a snake oil salesmen out here selling bad product making and giving your product and product lines a bad name. It's very frustrating as a patient myself because I have friends who write to me from Louisiana like what's the product using and unfortunately, I can't recommend anybody because I don't know the industry because I know hemp and cannabis but I know cannabis specifically now because I stepped out of the hemp industry in the 90s because they have industry collapse because Ralph Lauren placed an order through a company for 2 million meters of hemp product. You know he wanted to make a whole line of hemp products and it was probably going to be you know, pants and things like that. So they wanted cognized hemp which is different than the hemp that we made in Eastern Europe, cotton ice tempers where they literally cut the head into inch to half inch pieces so they can run it through conventional cognizing machine happens a very long and strong fiber and the machinery that we were dealing with in Eastern Europe is 70 to 100 years old. So the tensile steel and everything is ready for that tensile steel and currently running with hemp would be destroyed. I know people who have made plywood from hemp and when they were going to try to run it through conventional machinery had to arc weld the Hamp off of their machinery because it knotted it up so badly. So there's a whole bunch of progress around CBD and hemp. But there's still so much more I've seen a potential I have dealt with the potential and it could be there but unfortunately because of the problems currently inherent in the CBD and hemp system, that it if it does not invest in its infrastructure. Shortly, we will see a collapse of the CBD industry the same way as we saw the hemp industry at the end of the 90s. But remember, we had no access to grow it here at that time. We had people test growing it and the D coming up and actually pulling out then scaring them or intimidating them into doing so Hempstead in them back with Chris Boucher and them they were working in Hempstead in the early 90s. They were trying to protest for crops of hemp here in the United States and the DEA showed up and intimidated them to stop and made them cut the hemp down. So the DEA didn't do it. They had to do it themselves. You see, I'm saying so there's ways that the system has been forwarded. So the changes happened. The change even happened back then, because HAMP was still put in NAFTA, because I was important export or I had a NAFTA classification number specifically for him. So we're past the importing and exporting now we can actually grow and produce here in United States. So we need people to focus on things that are real, you got to look to somebody like Ben jonkers, who has hemp company in the Netherlands, he survived 20 years at a loss just by taking the hemp herds and chopping them up and selling them as animal bedding. They're in Netherlands and throughout Europe because they're not chopping down trees and using things like when I worked at a horse farm right after the war, I would go to an actual Amish mill and grab all their sawdust, and lay that as bedding that's gonna become sparser and sparser. And so by using the hampered Well, again, you've got something that's biologically sound does it mold doesn't mildew, which you can have, it can cause you know, a death of a horse, if you don't do things properly. So there are products that are out there, there's ISO Sean fra, ISO Sean fre, which is the old French way of making stone, which is you take hemp, hurds lime, cement and water. There's bridges 1500 years old in France standing to this day made by that method and methodology that people ISO offers a company in France back in the 90s, where they were actually making in between your walls here, they're actually as opposed to putting that pink stuff, they actually put the ISO sharper, which is just this hemp stone, and it's fireproof, and it's waterproof, and doesn't produce molds and mildews, or the radon gases, which is a problem that is inherent because of the problems of the pink stuff we're putting in the walls and all the other toxic stuff that we have used in the manufacturing all these things within our homes. So there's a lot of opportunity for you to help growers, but we're talking billions of dollars that have to be put into the infrastructure here in America. And there's a story sometime I know you'll have to have me talk about which is the am hempco story, which is a story back in the 30s of a gentleman who actually did all that he actually went and bought a plastic making machinery paper making machinery. And this was all in Danville, Illinois. And basically in the mid 30s, they were the price of hemp astronomically grew because they started to use ammonium nitrate. I have audio tape of old farmers who say literally stand yields, and watch the hemp growing in the daytime, while they were growing so much hemp that that guys promised that they were going to pay $90 a pound or hemp back in this is 1935. Okay, and they brought in so much have that fall that he could not afford to pay the farmer. So he decided to actually make a strike a deal with the farmers, I will give you farmers 10% of what is produced on the back end, and I will still pay you your $90 a pound. While in a board meeting, mysteriously a fire was set at the Hamp that was surrounding his entire factory that had all this machinery and it all burned to the ground. And he went to jail when his family reputation was destroyed. And so this is your history people. This is the hem and that factory floor of Danville, Illinois now the Ford factory, we have a shameful history of hemp in this country. And it used to grow down even in Louisiana, The Rock Island used to actually come down and pick it up and take it up to that factory. So I mean, we have to get back to that infrastructure here in the United States. We need factories, we need Mills, we'll need railroads again to move these products in bulk to your central processing station so that we're no longer reliant on this cotton, that of who is of course, they still use Agent Orange as a defoliant. Which means they actually have to scrape two feet of the soil off because you can't grow for two years of any type of food plant on those fields. As you know, if you're a farmer, again, I grew up in farming country there in rural Louisiana, because everybody grew sugar cane of sugar beets because that's the amount of water that came down there. And they had to actually run ditches and all that it's not like how they produce it in Hawaii where they would actually produce it nice, huge masses. They actually have it roads so that they actually could cut it properly because sugar cane grass will slice you right to the bone is just that that's why they have to actually burn it and why it's been deemed not environmentally sound. So there's Mills down there in Louisiana, where all those old sugarcane mills are Back in the 90s, I figured about 100 million per, because they're used to processing huge 13 foot plus stocks. Okay, so there's crushing machinery that's there, you could retool machineries for around 100 million to 500 million as opposed to spending a billion dollars, you know what I'm saying, because there's some of that infrastructure there. But the rest of that old infrastructure, we have dismantled melted down, or we sold directly to South America, to jute factories. And we're buying all that jute and sizes and stuff, all from our old factories that are literally done there. So this is your history, people that you need to realize that we have to fix if you want to see a viable hemp industry here in the United States, because I love CBD. But there's a lot of farmers could do a lot better growing hemp for all these other different methods and methodology, if there was an infrastructure there if they knew where they could send their herds to produce the paper or cellulosic plastics, okay, where and when and how that's infrastructure. And then there, what do I do to send fiber? How do you want the fiber? Do you want water readed? Do I have to get machinery so it's stripped wet so that it's easily come through and then can be woven into what we need threading factories so that we can build initial threading. And those are gone, those are long gone, those are all specifically in China and all made for cotton, we have to rethink and we could put so many generations to work and doing all these things. So I know you kind of started as introduction, but how am I doing over here?
Shayda Torabi 31:35
I'm just like I'm gobsmacked. I mean, obviously, like, it seems my observation, you entered the industry very unbeknownst to yourself, especially in a timeline where there was obviously not structure. I mean, it's blowing my mind that the government was operating this medical marijuana program even to that end to grain. It's obviously a crappy medical marijuana program. But it shows they're growing right now. Yeah, I mean, it just it shows their awareness of it. And you obviously highlighted very in depth for a lot of my audience, the history of kind of hemp, and especially through the different and I'm with you, I know I represent a CBD brand. But I like you have a passion for this plant at a much bigger scale. And even here in Texas have observed, our state has even identified like, Hey, we have enough CBD brands like why don't we have these other aspects of this plants, whether it's infrastructure, agriculturally. I mean, fiber plastics, you talked about a hempcrete. But I've observed the same challenge, which is these machineries these processors don't exist. But I talk to all these farmers constantly and they're then calling me Hey, I grew CBD flower Do you want to sell it in your store? I'm like, stop growing for smokeable stop growing for CBD extraction start growing for biomass start growing for these other applications. But because the processors aren't there, it's a very uphill battle, I think for the industry to kind of come back around to really being able to build something. But it starts with conversations like this, right? Like I think it starts with people like yourself who have this, like, you know, really long term in depth understanding, first and foremost of the plant and also history of how it's kind of processed through the different decades. But again, I just I meet so many people and our fathom of this plant is it gets me high, or maybe it helps me sleep or, you know, maybe this that Yeah, very, very small. And so it's a very grateful moment for me to be able to learn again, I'm a selfish marketer. I'm a selfish human. I like these conversations, because I really do give a shit about these conversations. I give a shit about this history. And I want to learn so you're helping me have a deeper appreciation for the history of where we've come from. And certainly give me some motivation for where we're going. might kind of follow up question to you a little bit is transitioning a little bit into the marijuana side since that's where you're kind of presently existing. How do you observe what's happened from an educational perspective? Knowing that we used to have hemp it was part of like you said, the ships coming over it was their sales. There's obviously this awareness of medical marijuana this application and now kind of reflecting We're in 2021. You can now legally grow hemp in America, you can now legally in some states grow marijuana, but our awareness is so small, but like how do we come out of that? How do you continue the advocacy when it's being so sensationalized? It's almost like the market has exploded so fast, but yet the industry in the infrastructure hasn't supported it and hasn't grown with it.
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Etienne Fontan 35:37
It's very simple education. It's how it all started. We all started three years ago, they were telling me kid give it up because I was 21 at the time, you know, it's never gonna happen, not in our lifetimes. And we have to thank jack career. JACK career was one of the key proponents and if you are listening, if you're unfamiliar, you go pick up your copy. And if you're happy, go pick up a copy of the Emperor wears no clothes, that is a mandatory reading for anybody in HAMP. It is amazing. And then you've got also hemp lifeline to the future by Chris Conrad. Whereas Jack's book was more of a reference. Chris Conrad's book was more of the narrative which got more information out there. So each generation finds its way of educating jack and fought tooth and toenail and went down, and others, you know, donated to him so that he went and found that actual archive footage of hemp for victory from the 1940s, which actually showed us that the United States government put not only were actively teaching farmers and telling farmers and providing them with hemp seeds, they actually put out an actual video of the time of how to produce hemp and what it was for and it was called hemp for victory because they needed the cordage and the ropes and the flags and all that was all made out of hemp all of your paper all way back in the day was all made from hemp because it lasts it doesn't break down the way that the tree pulp paper that we've been using for decades has been doing we've been sold on a battle lies. And of course you have to realize is 3040 years ago, we used to grow at least 10% of what we use in a day's time. Now, I mean, sorry, Shayda. There's very few people who are farmers anymore. There's no songs about farming only laments, because farming is hard. I grew up around farmers, so I watched them lose a year and have to accept the reality because they're staying before the actual destroyed crop. You know, you can do a tornado came through and twisted all the sugarcane up, nothing you can do. It's done, you know, their ability to accept the harsh reality and hope for next year. If there is believers in anything, it's the farmer because they build on it. And so if we're no longer producing what we use, we've gone completely subjective to what we're advertised toward every single day, be it what we hear what we see just a little bit of psychology, you have to understand back in 1900, the average person used to input around 500 pieces of information on a day's time today, you're talking over 25 to 50,000 inputs into your brain a day. That is a lot of expansion that the mind I don't think has had time to evolve properly to handle. I think we see the destruction around us all the time, which is why we need medicines that are natural. That's why I found a natural medicine. Trust me the VA was more than happy to pump me full of morphine. And every type of pharmaceutical that I wanted. The problem was is I was an artist, I was creative. If I wanted to draw all over myself, I got the job, but I couldn't think and I'm left handed so I'm in my right mind. So I couldn't be there on these types of drugs. Whereas with cannabis, I could go there I could flow through there, it was my medicine. So I took it to a point where I realized that I put my ass on the line for my freedom because I got tired of being a patient and making criminals out of my friends. I felt that was wrong. I felt they should have to criminalize my friend for providing me my medicine. And I went to the VA and told them about that. Then the VA proceeded to call security label me a known drug user and physically removed me from four different VA facilities. So I was made to feel the shame, like a second class citizen, and the one time it was in DC. And as I was outside this hospital, I was mad. And what did I fucking smell? I smelled marijuana. I marched around that hospital and there was a guy hooked up to his chemo, smoking pot and I just talked to this nurse and the size like, you know what he's doing, right? She's like, Yeah, he's got cancer, so and it works. So Good day sir. And I walked off and was confused because I was just physically removed from a facility just for mentioning my cannabis use. Now, I was admitting I was using an illegal substance and drugs. So now no drug user. Now I'm for both and I lose all my benefits go away.
So I use those negative experiences. And when I got involved in medical cannabis, I wanted no one to feel that shame. If I could keep anyone from doing that, the better. Because that hurt, hurt my soul hurt my being so to risk my freedom to provide cannabis, because that's what we were doing to understand in 1996 when the cannabis laws change, it allowed for collective growth. It didn't allow for dispensaries. But we were doing collectively doing buying and selling was illegal, even still. So we had to actually change the law and we did we lobbied so that's the key thing is people you have to realize is you have to part of democracy is eternal vigilance and eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And so we have to spend that time by being active locally. We knew we could hide and beat it to dispensary. But we knew it would be better if we told the chief of police in the city council and the mayor what we were doing so that they knew that we were upfront. And that we were not just some fly by night shady people trying to do this, that look that gentleman started Berkeley patients group, Jim McClellan was an AIDS patient. And he passed away unfortunately, in 2001, due to complications. And my friends, Debbie goldsberry, and Don Duncan carried on. They were activists, they originally operated an underground, they started what's called the union, where they actually say to anybody over the age of 18. If you bought a union membership, you could come to this place on a Friday and buy cannabis, an eighth or an order max or something. And needless to say, the line quickly went around the block after a short amount of time because people in Berkeley are like weed. I can buy weed somewhere. Sure. And so then they got busted by the cops, the cops came in and they were able to beat them on illegal they didn't have a search warrant and all this other stuff. So they got off on the technicalities because they learn the laws of off the law and one. And so Jim saw these activists from the cannabis Action Network what they did, and were like, I need these people and so they were they risked their freedoms until I came in after Jim's passing. I came in I was the general manager for a gentleman by the name of Ed Rosenthal. He wrote one of the most successful independent authors in US history. It writes bro books and it wrote a co authored with Mel Frank, their first bro book in the early 70s. And has been selling those grow books because he would became the publisher because no publisher distributor wanted to carry that sort of stuff back in the day that was, you know, you were literally blackballed, and you know, shut out from absolutely anything and everything. So Ed was a donator to the cannabis Action Network, he would donate his Grove books and T shirts to us to sell on the road. And that's how we got ourselves around selling t shirts have Klein and pet jewelry and all that stuff back in the day. That's how we were able to afford the kinkos copies and all that that we distributed. We were firm believers and providing information so that you would forget about it in your pocket so that your mom, Guardian, friend, sister lover, opened it up, like What's this? And it would spark the conversation. We had tours called spark the conversation. So we tried to think of grassroots way to affect people in effect change. A brief example, one time we did the first rally in Cheyenne, Wyoming back in 1994. And oddly enough, we had two six foot tables set on each other. And on one side was a young woman on the on the other side was an older woman. And as they got together, they met in the middle and it was a mother and daughter and they both recognize each other and she was like you said you were going to babysit but you said you're going shopping. And in a blink of an eye. My mentor Matt pulled the joint from under the table and passed it to the ladies and said ladies, why don't you go sit onto this that tree and talk about that. And they did. And it was a beautiful conversation that would have never been had had mother daughter not met there or free pot had been there as well. But regardless, these are ways that we were going around and it's still done person to person people. It's there's no great campaign that's going to be done on television. Now you've got hempvana and all kinds of stupid stuff I can see on my television that doesn't do anything to educate anybody on HAMP but they definitely are great at selling a product There's a lot to this product. And there's a lot to that can be made. I mean, there's a book that could put out 50,000 different products made from hemp, which is true, which means that there's 50,000, you listening each one of you can make your own hemp product, specifically unique and nobody would be stepping on. That's kind of crazy if you think about the ideas that are out there that are attainable if we invest and look within ourselves. But that takes education as you know, you got to raise money, just for your simple product line, imagine the amount of education you're going to have to do to actually get the actual Mills so that you could actually do something with your cellulose, do something with your plants, the sides just chop the top and have to burn the rest. You know, that's a shame that you know, all that biomass is going to, you know, that lignin could be extracted and we could make agnostic plastics, you could take hemp seed, make hemp seed oil, hemp seed oil, plastics, you know, there's cellulose from the fight in the chorus, 77% cellulose. So if you think about the paper, or the cellular plastic plastics, if you look at all the plastic products that you're using today, ladies and gentlemen, those were all made originally from natural products, and you we've just been duped into accepting these petroleum ones, okay, that's a fact. So you know, we can do better, you can do better, but you're gonna have to put your money where your mouth is. So that's why Shayda people are asking you, why aren't you wearing hemp products? Why aren't you wearing this. And so when I was in the hemp industry, I would be head to toe him. But we also were the ones who did the first Adidas hemp shoe by talking to a database. But then when we're working with them, then we had ethical things because we heard about all these, you know, slave labor of shoes. So then we had to find a country that had didn't have slave labor and used adults living wage, which took you know, it takes longer to do something ethically, which it took us you know, a year longer, I think to make the shoot because of define where they actually would recycle the soul. So that was actually their first recycled soul. Again, this is 1998 9997 98. And then the whole top was all have construction. But of course, we had to use the Chinese hat, we couldn't even use our Eastern European hat because of, you know, wear issues. And you know, it was great for type of Canvas, but it wouldn't make that really fine material that you're so used to from industrial
nice. will tell you on mass at such a cheap price you need to have I mean, I was there when the hemp Industry Association was created. I know that people I wish them well. But we need to do bigger and broader because we need to be able to compete with cotton Cotton's the fabric of our lives, well, you should be able to have a hemp industry have these types of commercials, so that you're building brand awarenesses as well as openness toward people realizing the investment in infrastructure that has is needed, we can survive on the outside if we want by this definition that we're going for, for CBD, if that's what hemp was, but wasn't why the hemp legislation was launched, why it was pushed, it was pushed so that this whole availability of industrialization could come back. And America could could do it. And this plant could really be the reindustrialization of this country if it wanted to, if it chose to if it wanted to. But it doesn't want to because the education isn't there because we've been lied to so well. And so sufficiently for so many decades, we buy the reefer madness and the stupidity and how many jokes and puns is every single advertiser or, you know, media person try to put on your product like, Oh, look at smoking discount, you know, all kinds of just silly things. This Cheech and Chong show, we have to get past and be the real adults in the room and realize that your sons or grandsons could actually have an industry and a solidified foot in an industry. If you started that investment. Now, in your area, your region, your district, in your state, in your region of the United States, then and the United States as a whole would be unstoppable. It's a shame that, you know, we have to do all this education and push to create this wedge so that we can plant a seed of inflammation. So hopefully, it will sprout and people so that's why I tell them go back to the Emperor wears no clothes, go back to the basics, learn your history, learn the rules, so that you can break them properly. You know, because remember, there is no infrastructure. JOHN DEERE and International Harvester are not going to touch us until you're talking a million acres at a minimum being produced. So there's a whole bunch of regional machinists that could go out and find that in these Freedom of Information Act, all these old research facilities, all these hemp patents are sitting there. Well for all these recorded caters, they're available. They're there. Which means if you got off your ass right now and got filled out a FOIA request, I know if somebody who did so, and he's out of Nebraska and he makes small hemp decorticated. So there are people making them. But there needs to be large scale Toad, I mean, different types of decortication will be needed for depending on what type of you know, production you're going for. And uniformity of you know, your plants, which means we have to get away from the space growing and go to these very thick canopies. Because it says, unlike canal, which has a huge problem, which can Apple actually choke all the plants around it out for sunlight, cannabis is unlike that it will actually grow as a self competing canopy. As soon as one leaf feels another leaf growing, it will chase it all the way up. And so you can grow great biomass and stock on mass for consistency for these machiners. But you can't have these mills in machineries out there without that started that type of production, because we're not going to do it. From the field reading and the types of things that we want or the types of products, you're not going to get this type of shirt, or this type of weather sweater quality until we go through a few generations of investment, so that we can get it to a fine cotton nice and nice fabric that we don't have to actually bleach. So it has slight differences, you have to learn to accept some natural realities that come with natural products, as opposed to this constant production of these plastics and unnatural fibers that are available. These are aspects that you farmers can take today, invest in yourselves. And I mean, they're simple people that I know, like the Hmong tribe in in Thailand, they would just take the fiber weave it simply and then bash it with rocks, where they would pair these rocks through marriages of a year, they would literally take these rocks, and they would have to marry them for a year, they would have to sit dormant, they consider marrying the rocks. And then they will take these two rocks and
rocks and smash this small square into a large yard by yard square. Okay, and then there's others that can take the herd and just mash it up in a blender and then sell it in rough paper form right now. So this crash immediately you can do. And another thing is that we found that you can get high grade fiber from high grade cannabis, which of course nobody wants to really talk about because that would go against the whole problem, which is the French see the EU C which is the point 03 percent, which is something that we here in the United States have just accepted stupidly, when we go out and we look if you see that hemp that's growing out feral throughout Ohio, I've seen them in Ohio attic bed, rest stop growing out, etc. all throughout Nebraska. That's the specific genetic it came from China and under actual execution by the Chinese. And we imported it Thomas Jefferson did. And this type of genetic is still out there growing and yes, it's above point 3%. But this is acclimated seed right now that if we could industrialize if we could get past these point 03 percent fucking limits that EU has imposed on us or we've accepted but that's now all change because again, December 2 2020 micro crowds and them at the United Nations got Canvas taken out of the schedule for so now internationally. medical marijuana is legal for the first time so there's new accesses and laws that you now saw. Other countries like Japan are starting to now want to explore CBD as well as growing hemp, etc. Now that this international drug treaty is changed, you're going to see a lot of aspects of growth in reality. So this is where the United States has to get some Kahunas and actually decide that these international treaty regarding this hemp doesn't vibe with what is actually growing domestically, all throughout the fields, all throughout all of North South Dakota along the rivers, there's still feral hemp all growing out there and that's such strain and that's available domestically but for some reason because that test higher than the point 03 percent we feel we can't utilize that and that genetic right there alone could you know change things but we're somehow inherent because as you know they're in Texas you just lost a huge fight because of the whole Delta eight added to your, you know, your health bill. You know, there I'm also I worked with a veterans group called the veterans Action Council. And so Dave Bassett is one of the major guys there in Texas is one of our members. So he has been keeping us up to date and what hasn't been happening there. And the small incremental THC limit changes, which is a stupid dance, which is why I am giving you this education about, you know, these genetics that are, again, domestically available, but because of these stupid treaties that are no longer applicable, we're now inherent to all these, you know, fanola and other types of genetics that are inferior to these old genetics that are growing domestically right here right now is that just
Shayda Torabi 55:31
it's fucking crazy. Insanity peppers, you know, like literally why we are I mean, you've been highlighted the point 3% rule. It's like, where does that even have merit? Who decided that? Why is that? Well, we've adopted
Etienne Fontan 55:45
the French it was the French back in 1994 95. Because they wanted to get the ISO sharper and that growing and because also my friends in Manitoba wanting to get the hang up. So Dave Watson created fanola. I know him because I'm on hash church. And he's also a Sam, the skunk man. So you know, he's one of the quintessential leading botanists to have created the majority of your hemp genetics as well as he created Scott, number one got Hayes from Mel Frank and other geneticists. So what types of genetics are you currently growing?
Shayda Torabi 56:20
I mean, I'm not growing anything we're just sourcing from farmers, but we sourced from out of state because Texas's legality was no, no, I understand. But fanola Zola to note, do you know, I haven't even heard of those genetics. I don't even know where I would get those genetics, Canada,
Etienne Fontan 56:43
because that's where they will, they were bred, you know, they're reading again. And these are what they're using for the seed production, things like that up in Canada, because those are the legal points.
Shayda Torabi 56:57
But like, the strains that we hear are like, you know, their Hawaiian haze, or Bubba Kush, or CBG. flower, like there's a convolution of the actual genetics, there's a lack of education. from a marketing perspective, you know, it's indicus ativa. Hybrid, we're just now reemerging. To talk about terpenes. It's
Etienne Fontan 57:20
another Chester's ation of the industry. You guys need to get your shit together. And you need to create a actual exactly such as where I used to get from the consulting Institute, you need to create an institute for him domestically here in the United States, so that you're actually taking seeds, taking those seeds stop growing them regionally, such as where I grew up in Louisiana, they would have test plots by the universities around where they would come and grow test plots, or they would actually grow plots where you would actually need to be because it takes on average of two years to acclimate to genetics to a longitude latitude. So you need regional areas growing for this institute, that are producing specific hemp genetics in these regions. So that now when I order, and I want to grow 300 400 seed per square meter, I know how much biomass I'm going to pull out of that hectare. Otherwise, you know, that's not how business works. This is the reality of what farming needs to become. So you need your own germ plasm Institute, you need to create one for hemp, so that you're doing away with this bullshitter II of the names and actually gene mapping these hemp genetics, stabilizing these hemp genetics so that you're maximizing so that when you order from that farmer, you're getting the certain amount of tonnage or milliliters or gallons that you need to pull out, so that you can successfully manufacture your run. So that means you need to know what specific genetic out there is the maximum one so you need a germ plasm Institute specifically in have dispelled I mean, having scientists who are doing the science and then setting up regional grows so that there's actual acclimated seeds so that, you know, your farmer can buy and get stock of acclimated seeds so that they can maximize their growth. Having non acclimated seeds, people, you're going to have spotty problems of growth all the way if you have acclimated seed genetics, they know exactly where it's growing, it matters. You don't know where these seeds were growing. The problem is a lot of these seeds people are getting came from north of just below Canada and north and they're trying to grow them in areas all throughout the south and having problems why because they're not acclimated genetics, because they're not stabilized genetics, they're not acclimated which means you need to start at the base, you need to have germ plasm Institute gathering breeding and regionally growing these genetics and then growing seed stock so that then you can then sell and have real seed stock opposed to the people being strong armed with this bullshit, that they have no idea what they're getting. Cuz that's the truth.
Shayda Torabi 1:00:09
I feel like I just had a wonderful history lesson, one that you cannot find in any book, or magazine or podcast or article, except I guess now you have it on my podcast. So hopefully that's an asset to you. But I just think at 10, for sharing all of that it was very eye opening. I think for so many of us in the cannabis industry, hemp or marijuana, there was a lot of history to be learned and to be unpacked and trying to wrap our heads around kind of where we came from, as a community and where we're going. There's a lot that we owe to the people like Etienne who, you know, helped establish kind of that path and that groundwork for us to stand upon. So that's really the takeaway. I hope that you walked away a little bit more informed, a little bit more passionate, a little bit more curious, to continuing the education. I don't think the education ever stops. There's certainly more stories to be told stories to be learned. And we're obviously writing our own story. Right now. We're, we're living this live, we are the next generation, the next iteration. And so I just thank you for taking the time to sit down and listen to this episode. And if it resonated with you, all I can ask is that you share it with someone else and keep passing the education along. So thank you again to attend for joining us What a wonderful treat indeed that was. And I will be back next Monday with a another new episode. I hope you all have a great one and take care.
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai