Store Owners Say Hemp is Versatile Plant

Store Owners Say Hemp is Versatile Plant
Posted by FoM on October 05, 2001 at 09:29:46 PT
By Michael Futch, Staff Writer
Source: Fayetteville Observer-Times
William Dean started off his career as a stockbroker. Now he’s buying and selling hemp products retail. The 28-year-old Dean, an upstart pro-hemp entrepreneur who was born and raised in Moore County, envisions an expansion of his budding hempire. One day he hopes to open stores in Fayetteville and Sanford and perhaps even beyond. For the time being, Dean and his wife, Gwen, own and operate Flowland Hemporium & Smoke Shop just off U.S. 1 at one end of a sun-bleached yellow aluminum siding strip mall on West Morganton Road. 
While there are other stores and flea market booths around that dabble in such specialty items, this business may be the only one in the Cape Fear region that’s based around -- or as Dean put it, ‘‘dedicated to’’ -- hemp wear and other hemp-based merchandise.Flowland sells casual shoes made from ‘‘industrial’’ hemp, men’s and women’s hemp sandals, hemp beach shirts and swim suits, hemp dresses, jeans and overalls. Hemp yarn, hemp wax, hemp ‘‘hacky sacs,’’ hemp heating rub and hemp mineral bath. Hemp guitar straps. Even hemp pretzels.Hempzel Pretzels, as they are called, are priced at $3.79 a bag.Then there are the ‘‘alternative undies,’’ which were neatly folded on a table on a recent visit to the store. ‘‘They’re a hemp-silk blend,’’ Dean said, ‘‘to not be too scratchy.’’ There’s a line of hemp-cotton blend clothing on the racks, such as the men’s sports shirts for $27.95.Not everything sold here is created from hemp. There’s lots of other stuff for those who align themselves with the counterculture set: body jewelry, posters, tapestries, beading supplies, incense and a wall display of stickers. Some of the stickers, like those bearing images of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, pay tribute to the once-ripe psychedelic San Francisco scene of the 1960s; others are testament to the cult following that surrounds television’s ‘‘South Park’’ and the Vermont-based rock jam band Phish.There is a stigma to this sort of college town-like business, and the twentysomething owners are aware of what they’re up against with, for lack of a better word, the establishment. Hemp is controversial, a kissing cousin to marijuana and hashish. And the smoke shop side of the operation, where ‘‘water pipes’’ and hand pipes and rolling papers are sold over the counter, adds yet another subterranean dimension that has traditionally drawn the disapproval of mainstream America, anti-drug activists, our law enforcement agencies and the politicians on Capitol Hill.Without blowing smoke, there is a direct link to the drug culture.‘‘We’d been discussing opening a shop like this for two years before we did it -- what we’ve got in the back and the hemp (merchandise) that got incorporated into it,’’ said Gwen Dean, a 26-year-old horse lover from Pennsylvania and the mother of two young children. ‘‘I think it’s all about how you go about doing it. You’re pretty much walking on eggshells all the time. We don’t want to get people offended. People start talking.‘‘If we just stay on a good note with the community, I think we’ll be all right.’’The couple opened the store just before Christmas last year. From the way William Dean talks, the business has been a big hit: ‘‘If the business that we’re doing now in a bad economy is any indication of what business would be like in a good economy, I can’t wait for a good economy. I’m probably doing double what I thought I’d be doing here.’’That might seem surprising, considering that this hemporium stands in a retirement community. This is a place that, when the locals talk grass, chances are it’s pertaining more to your common Bermuda or hybrid varieties that grace the fairways of the 30 or so golf courses in the nearby Pinehurst area rather than funny cigarettes. Scott Gibson manages the Shrimp Eatery restaurant that operates two doors down from Flowland. ‘‘You’d be surprised,’’ he said. ‘‘I see quite often older people in there buying beads and crafts. Maybe it’s out of curiosity. They sell a lot of nice clothes in there.’’ The 42-year-old Gibson, for one, is high on hemp clothing.He bought a pair of hemp blue jeans about eight years back in Canada, and he still wears them. He said he’ll go through a regular pair of denim jeans in four or five years.Most of Flowland’s regular customers, Dean said, are ages 18 to 25. But golfers, doctors, lawyers, even grandparents have come in to check out the goods. ‘‘This morning,’’ he said one day last month, ‘‘I had a lady come in who was at least 90 years old. She saw the stuff and the books about it (hemp). She said she would be back in to see me. My grandmother has come in here and bought from me. Everybody can use these products.‘‘If you just break that mind set that’s been ingrained in everyone’s eyes about hemp. And marijuana, too.’’And that’s the part of this industry that scares a lot of folks away.The cultivation of hemp is restricted in the United States because the illegal drugs marijuana and hashish are obtained from hemp plants. Candi Penn is on the board of directors and runs the office of the Hemp Industries Association in Occidental, Calif. It’s a trade group representing about 300 hemp companies around the world. These range from farmers and research companies to manufacturers and retailers.Penn said a dozen states have passed legislation supporting the legal growth of industrial hemp. ‘‘Maybe another half dozen tried to pass it, and it hasn’t passed yet,’’ she continued. ‘‘The way it’s set up federally: It’s licensed by the DEA. The Drug Enforcement Administration does all the licensing of cannabis. It hasn’t been differentiated that cannabis and hemp are different.’’Currently, the only legal hemp crop grown in the United States is at the University of Hawaii, according to Penn. The federal government has denied the requests of all other states. The University of Hawaii is in its second year of growing a test plot and developing breeds for the Hawaiian climate.‘‘You have to construct a 12-foot-high barbed wire fence,’’ she said, ‘‘and have a 24-hour surveillance system.’’Hemp is a plant sometimes grown for its strong fiber. Hemp fibers are obtained from the plant’s woody stem and used to make, among other things, ropes, cords, twines, textiles, plastics, insulation and other building materials.The biggest misconception about hemp, Dean said, is that you can smoke it and get stoned: ‘‘I think the old saying is that you’d have to smoke a joint the size of a telephone pole to get high. To even care about what you’re getting.’’Hemp contains less than 1 percent of tetrahydracannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, according to studies done by Leson Environmental Consulting of Berkeley, Calif. By contrast, marijuana has up to 14 percent THC.At this time, the DEA is reviewing the importation of cannabis seeds and oil because of their THC content. ‘‘The government is also concerned that hemp cultivation may be a stalking horse for the legalization of marijuana,’’ states a report on Programs and Initiatives to Prevent Drug Use in the National Drug Control Strategy: 2001 Annual Report. That comes from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. According to a recent report by the Department of Agriculture, American markets for hemp fiber, yarn, fabric and seed in 1999 could have been produced on less than 5,000 acres of land. ‘‘Further,’’ the report said, ‘‘the potential exists for these markets to quickly become oversupplied. Uncertainty about long-run demand for hemp products and the potential for oversupply discounts the prospects for hemp as an economically viable alternative crop for American farmers.’’‘Hemp is Not Dope’ ‘‘Pro-Hemp’’ and ‘‘Before You Say No Learn About Hemp’’ and ‘‘Hemp is Not Dope’’ are some of the signs posted on the front glass of Flowland Hemporium & Smoke Shop. Next to a mailbox is a poster of a dollar bill that reads: ‘‘George Washington was a Hemp Farmer.’’William Dean got the idea for this business when he attended the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, with his then seven-months pregnant wife and her mother and his wife’s brother. That was during the time that Dean was living off his 401K following a five-year job as a stock broker in New Jersey. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1995 with a degree in marketing.Four years before that, he graduated from Pinecrest High School.He’s a local boy.His wife, Gwen, is from Edinboro, Pa., which is about 15 miles south of Lake Erie. She’s an equestrian in an equestrian town, and she has competed in dressage and jumping events. They met at a bar in Southern Pines.When he got the chance to go to Sydney, Dean visited a small hemp shop just north of the city in the Blue Mountains. ‘‘They had a few shirts, a variety of hemp products,’’ he said. ‘‘I had never seen a store dedicated to it. At that time it didn’t spark me.’’He spoke from the office in the back of his shop as Jimi Hendrix’s ragged but right, machine-gun interpretation of ‘‘The Star-Spangled Banner’’ played inside the store. ‘‘We came back from Sydney, and I was thinking about it more and more,’’ he said.Last October, he began researching the business. What was out there? What kind of distribution was available for these kind of products?Another local man, the dread-locked Anthony McLeod, was working behind the counter on this day. He helped the Deans open the place. William Dean has known him for 14 years. They went to Pinecrest High School together. They used to skateboard together.When they first opened for business, Dean said the cops came a-calling. ‘‘Which I think they do with every new business,’’ he said. ‘‘They saw the (smoking) products we had and just kind of laughed and couldn’t believe it was legal and OK as far as they were concerned.‘‘It’s a legal industry.’’Early on, Flowland Hemporium & Smoke Shop was probably 70 percent ‘‘head shop’’ and 30 percent hemp products, Dean said. Now, he figured it was more like 50/50.He said he has never been harassed by local law enforcement officers for trading in what is commonly used for drug use. ‘‘We’re selling products you can get over the Internet,’’ he said. ‘‘You can go to Raleigh and find them in the flea markets there. Go to Fayetteville. Anywhere.’’Sgt. David Pait is with the Fayetteville Police Narcotics Vice Suppression Unit. In Fayetteville, stores are allowed to sell ‘‘smoking-type items’’ as long as there are tobacco products on the premises, he said. ‘‘Most of your head shops,’’ he added, ‘‘what they’re doing is selling pipes and smoking devices. But they’re also selling tobacco, which is perfectly legal. It’s just like selling a pipe in the store in the mall.’’A customer must be 18 to buy the ‘‘bongs,’’ the hand pipes, the rolling papers and the tobacco products sold in the back of the store, according to Dean. He and his wife said they check I.D.’sAt the rear of the store, there’s a small overhead sign that reads ‘‘Smoke Shop.’’ That leads into the head shop portion of the business. It’s like one of those private ‘‘Adults Only’’ sections in a video rental store.In the room are the smoking-type items and the pocket scales and the herbal and clove cigarettes. Domestic tobacco products are available. Off to one side, copies of the magazines ‘‘Cannabis Culture’’ and ‘‘High Times’’ are available for sale.Dean figured that he probably sells more pipes than anything else in the back shop. ‘‘Actually,’’ he added, while looking at a display of hand-blown glass hand pipes, ‘‘we have people who just buy the glass. I just have a deep appreciation for the art side of blown glass.’’Among the glass hand pipes are those made by a self-taught craftsman in Troy.A few customers filtered through the store on this late morning, but not many. Some came in to gab with Dean and McLeod. Four young men entered the shop and headed directly to the back. Discreetly, they made their purchase -- a hand pipe -- and left the establishment.‘‘It’s part of the store, and we can’t avoid it. It’s our main business,’’ Gwen Dean said. ‘‘If we ID and they have proper ID, what they choose to do with that product after they walk out the door is their decision.’’While there’s good turnover on the pipes, the hemp clothing is slow to move.The clothing is not inexpensive, but then again, neither is the merchandise sold at such places as The Gap or the Disney Store in the mall. ‘‘All the fabric has to be imported to the U.S. People don’t understand the hemp industry,’’ said Gwen Dean. ‘‘They don’t understand why it’s so expensive. They also don’t understand its durability. It doesn’t shrink. It’s wonderful stuff. What we’re trying to do is educate.’’‘‘A lot of people think about hemp as being very heavy,’’ her husband said. ‘‘It breathes very well. I can’t stop talking about it because it’s my business.’’Which leads into an obvious question: What will their two children -- ages 3 and 10 months -- think when they’re old enough to know what their parents are selling inside the Flowland Hemporium & Smoke Shop?‘‘That we’re cool parents,’’ Gwen Dean said, before pausing for a second. ‘‘I don’t know. I’ve often thought about that and how it will come back. I think the generation below us is going to be a lot more open-minded, hopefully, as far as that’s concerned. Hopefully, by the time they get to be 18, things will have changed a little bit.’’Source: Fayetteville Observer-Times (NC)Author: Michael Futch, Staff WriterPublished: Thursday, October 4, 2001Copyright: 2001 Fayetteville Observer-TimesContact: eletters fayettevillenc.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:FTE Hemp Links News Hemp Archives DEA Plan Could Hamper Hemp Retailer
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Comment #2 posted by Cannabis Dave on October 05, 2001 at 13:25:59 PT
Careful what you say!
The government can now label you a "terrorist" and take away all your rights. You lose all your rights once they label you a "terrorist", and just like in the days of the witch-hunt for "communists" many citizens will be falsely accussed for malicious reasons, so government goons can spy on them. It won't take much (or anything) for them to label you a terrorist, and they will label you a terrorist if they want to spy on you for other reasons too. I'm afraid this is the beginning of the end... Perhaps it will spawn another social revolution like we had in the sixties? That is the only way any good can come from this situations. If so, this time we need to go all the way and throw the evil criminals out of office and into prison where they belong. PEACE!
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Comment #1 posted by p4me on October 05, 2001 at 12:14:07 PT:
Cannabis for a better world
It is good to see articles like this. Can Warshington not figure out that they need a new approach to cannabis? In the debate between the honorable and progressive-thinking Governor Gary Johnson and the lying, repressive, dogmatic head of the DEA, Asa Hutchinson said that doing the same thing over and over, year after year and expecting a different result was the definition of insanity. The government is insane.
That September 10th debate is now at
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