In 1990, when ecologist, attorney and social justice activist Don Wirtshafter founded America’s first hemp business, the Ohio Hempery, there was no hemp industry in America.
Wirtshafter was a pioneer and visionary. He knew then what many people have discovered since- that hemp is nature’s most useful plant, capable of providing fuel, fiber, cloth, paper, medicine, building materals, oils, and food.
Wirtshafter’s plan was to make a variety of hemp products, educate people about the fact that hemp grows well without pesticides and herbicides, and convince politicians to allow American farmers to again grow a crop that had been grown in America from the 1600’s until hemp was prohibited in 1937.
“When I first opened the Ohio Hempery, I thought we’d be growing hemp in America by 1997,” explained Wirtshafter, who is busy as an international cannabis attorney and business consultant when he isn’t at home running the empery. “But we have run into a terribly stubborn and counterproductive attitude among some government officials, so American farmers and entrepreneurs have found it difficult to grow the hemp industry as quickly as an unregulated free market would have allowed.”
Undaunted by government interference, high prices for raw materials, and harassment by unprincipled corporate competitors, Wirtshafter developed a line of quality products that were good for consumers and the earth.
His first product was hemp paper, created with traditional Russian hemp fiber. He printed hemp promotional messages, using ink made from hemp oil, and sold them as bookmarks.
In 1991, Wirtshafter incorporated the Ohio Hempery and produced its firstcatalog. Its flagship product was The Hempseed Cookbook. Wirtshafter co-wrote the tastefully-designed book with California gourmet Carol Miller. The book’s purchase price included a pound of delicious hemp seeds.
Hemp seeds and hempseed oil are nature’s most perfectly balanced source of nutritional fatty acids, and Wirtshafter soon found himself selling tons of them.
His business quickly outgrew its original location in Wirtshafter?s law office, so he moved it to an old-time general store and hotel in Guysville, Ohio. He bought a German hemp oil press and helped create a boom for hemp products in medical applications and the natural food industry.
Of course, some people had a hard time understanding that hemp products, seeds and seed oil were not made of marijuana. Wirtshafter found himself turned away from several sales venues and trade shows, all because people were afraid that they may be breaking the law if they had a bar of hemp soap in their possession!
“It was good that I was an articulate person and an attorney,” recalls Wirtshafter. “Otherwise,it would have been expensive paying lawyers and public relations people to explain why what I was doing was legal. I used to get asked if hemp was pot, about thirty times a day! Fortunately, people know better these days. They understand that hemp is not a drug. Now, hemp is used by a variety of industrialists and millions of consumers. It’s free to enter the mainstream.”
By the mid-90’s, success was smiling on the Ohio Hempery. Wirtshafter had created a range of products that people loved, including hemp oil shampoo and conditioner, hemp soap, hemp salve and lotions. He was at the forefront of a rapidly expanding, but divergent, persecuted, and extremely competitive industry.
Soon, however, Wirtshafter found himself distracted by pleas for help from other people and companies interested in getting into the hemp business. He became a consultant and partner in international hemp seed growing and production enterprises, and gave pro bono assistance to hempsters the world over. Wirtshafter notes that hemp businesses need a lot of help.
“It’s amazing that our government subsidizes crops that harm nature while spending money to destroy cannabis hemp, which is superior to all the crops it competes with,” he notes. “The government raised the price of our raw materials, and made it harder for the hemp industry to develop new products and compete with cheaper, inferior products.”
Recently, Wirtshafter changed direction: he helped found an international company that is engaging in overseas government-approved testing of hemp’s botanical relative- marijuana.
“As everybody but the drug czar seems to realize, the cannabis plant can produce food, fuel, fiber, and medicine,” Wirtshafter says. “It has been used industrially and medicinally for centuries. Clinical trials are underway to determine its efficacy in treating everything from chronic pain to multiple sclerosis. This is a miracle plant that will make miracle medicines.”
Wirtshafter is excited to be involved in the international hemp and medical marijuana industries, but his new ventures have come at a price.
“I find that I am too busy to concentrate on the Hempery,” he admits. “I can’t give it the attention it deserves. I am now looking for somebody else to run it, and to that end I have advertised if for sale in a special, unprecedented E-Bay auction. I’m selling everything needed to continue the mail order portion of the Hempery’s business. As we note on the E-Bay listing: ‘This is a very mobile business, movable anywhere in the U.S. It is a perfect acquisition for an existing catalog company looking to expand into new product lines.’ Alternately, with the use of a service bureau or fulfillment house, it could be a perfect home business for anybody who cares about the earth, and wants to make good money selling great products.”
Wirtshafter believes the Ohio Hempery would be a perfect business for someone with mail order and/or Internet marketing experience.
“The Internet produced rapid changes and has created a lot of potential for the catalog industry.” he explained. “I just can’t find the time needed to stay current. Somebody out there can take this ball and run far with it.”
Optimism characterizes Wirtshafter’s attitude about the hemp industry’s future.
“Hawaii just planted its first hemp crop,” he noted. “They are going to be breeding seeds for tropical farmers. More and more politicians are waking up to hemp’s potential. Five states passed hemp bills last year, more than a dozen others have bills on the agenda Canada is moving way faster than the US. Their government has made great strides in helping farmers and producers get into hemp, as have governments the world over. Eventually, US officials will have to wake up to this plant’s amazing potential and usefulness.”
The way Wirtshafter explains it, somebody could place a winning bid for the Hempery and come away with everything necessary to run a successful hemp business.
Included in the sale are websites, the 1-800-BUY-HEMP phone number, inventory, equipment, computers and software, an extensive customer list and starting inventory. Wirtshafter is willing to retain a minority interest in the business; he is eager to assist a new owner in an area he most enjoys: product development and promotion.
“I admit to being a bit sad about this sale,” Wirtshafter confesses. “I put a decade of my soul and life into the Hempery. I named my daughter Sativa. But my loyalty to the plant and the cause remains strong, and I hope somebody will purchase this business and build on the strong base that I have created.”
Wirtshafter can be contacted via email at: [email protected]