It may surprise many in the Mid-Ohio Valley to know that we have an up and coming hemp industry with locally owned plots and products. Hemp in West Virginia has been an under the surface industry since it’s legalization under the 2002 Industrial Hemp Development Act. There are people across the state who have been working hard in areas of government policy, entrepreneurship, and even farming method to make this industry boom. This past week I sat down with one of those leading advocates who is based in Parkersburg. Local resident, J Morgan Leach is the Director of West Virginia Hemp Industries Association and Director of the West Virginia Farmer’s Co-operative Inc. I met with Leach in his shop “Hemp Picks” in downtown Parkersburg to explore how he has been developing the hemp industry.

Could you please tell me a little about yourself?

I am a practicing attorney in the state of West Virginia, as well as the director of the West Virginia Farmer’s Cooperative. I help organize the state trade association the West Virginia Hemp Industries Association. I also run a wholesale distribution and retail business called Hemp Picks in Parkersburg, West Virginia at the point park marketplace.

I grew up here in Vienna and went to Parkersburg High School. Afterwards, I went to West Virginia University where I studied journalism before attending law school. At law school, I graduated from their Center for Energy and Sustainable Development. Now I practice part time and work the hemp agenda.

“We pick the best products in the marketplace and use them to demonstrate what the hemp industry could be for West Virginia.”

What brought you to the issue of hemp in WV?  

For us, hemp is a great way to start to take meaningful steps to diversify the economy in West Virginia. So as we had been talking about the idea of the decline of the coal economy, we started to realize that we in West Virginia have to take steps to diversify – we have to create new industry and we have to create new jobs. Hemp is an incredible resource to start to do that.

Hemp plot in Wood County, WV

A lot of research points to Hemp as a new industry; you have a business here, why do you think this is going to be a big part of WV?

I think it is. I think so for a lot of reasons. One being this is such a sustainable resource. This is an easy crop to farm. We can go out and have minimal input into a field and generate a lot revenue off an acre of hemp. Mainly because we use what is called the tri-cropping method. I guess, actually, we could call it a quad-cropping method if there is such a term. We farm for the seed. We farm for the oil off the plant. We farm it for fiber. We farm it for the root. There are many different resources that we can use for many different types of products whether that be food products, dietary supplements, or nutraceutical with CBD (it’s a up and coming thing) and it’s sold over the counter today here at Hemp Picks.

But also, it’s great to look at the potential marketplace in the United States. It’s already huge – it’s a $700,000,000 industry a year. We are the largest importer of hemp materials and products globally but we are the only industrialized nation that has had a full-on prohibition against hemp. So, I think now there is an opportunity to start to reestablish a local supply chain and some of that local production. And hopefully be able to bring some of the manufacturing or refining process to create those products.

WV Hemp Logo

You have a business here in downtown Parkersburg. Can you tell me a bit about how your business got started, and your business partner?

Robby Kerr is my partner in the business. Together, we have done a lot of work in the hemp industry. We’ve done the policy side to working down in the legislature. We’ve worked in the Farmer’s Cooperative who has made a great effort to grow and commercialize hemp, as well as on the supply side.

Robby Kerr and J Morgan Leach

We always knew there would be a huge opportunity in hemp retail. We started to carry different kinds of hemp products that we liked – products we really wanted to emulate and create from our farming operations in West Virginia. That’s where “Hemp Picks” came from. We pick the best products in the marketplace right now and use them to demonstrate what the hemp industry could be for West Virginia.

“The hemp industry is a really positive thing for West Virginia and the Appalachian region. We are in a state of decline. We have got to take meaningful steps to start to diversify our economy.”

With your business, do you think the Parkersburg and greater Mid-Ohio Valley is open to your products? Do you get a general reaction?

We have an overwhelmingly positive response. Once somebody can wrap their mind around the difference between hemp and marijuana and realize there was a low HTC and it only creates positive beneficial products to support your health and wellness, they ask, “Why haven’t we done this sooner?” That’s where we are. That’s what we are doing.

Leach explaining products with customer in downtown Parkersburg.

Is there anything you would like to say to the Mid-Ohio Valley?

The hemp industry is a really positive thing for West Virginia and the Appalachian region. Right now, West Virginia is being seen in some ways as a state of decline. We have got to take meaningful steps to start to diversify our economy.  That really, at the end of the day, comes down to consumer preference – to the choice to say I am going to seek out a product that is American made and I’m going seek out a product that is sustainably made. And then I’m going to support those things. We need that support. We’ve been in the marketplace since April, and we have got to get more people down to support the market and these products. When you think about hemp, it’s a wonderful product and if you are going to buy it, might as well buy it right here in Parkersburg.

It is difficult to say what the business will look like even a year from now. But there is no question that advocates, like Leach, will continue to devote their efforts to this industry that they see as a critical economic development for West Virginia.