This month, the country’s greatest hemp innovators gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina for the third Southern Hemp Expo (SHE3), the East Coast’s largest trade conference in the sector. Featuring over 100 exhibitors at the Raleigh Convention Center, SHE3 showcased hemp’s multitude of applications from bioplastics to building materials, textiles, manufacturing, CBD and food products, and so much more.

“We’re in strange times right now,” said Alexia Locklear of craft CBD brand Appalachian Standard, “and I think it’s been really great to have some interaction with other individuals and especially people in the industry. This industry can sometimes feel a little isolating because you’re kind of in your own little world and bubble, and so it’s been great to connect and see what everybody’s doing, both from a CBD perspective and an industrial hemp perspective.”

SHE3’s theme was “ReTHINK Hemp,” and new developments certainly prompted attendees to do just that. Meredith Newman of House of Brandstracts demonstrated the world’s first cannabis-infused edible glitter, while Joe Naumann, managing partner of Hemp 3D, displayed the myriad everyday products that can come from 3D printing with hemp-based bioplastics.

“We’ve got lots of sunglasses, earrings, keychains, our chessboard is also really popular,” Naumann explained. “It’s bio-based, bio-compostable [and] carbon-negative.”

Organized by the nation’s leading hemp events and manufacturing company We Are For Better Alternatives (WAFBA), SHE3 was also sponsored by the environmental nonprofit EarthX and the pioneering brands CannaAid, Benchmark CBD, East Coast Hemp Supply Co., Franny’s Farmacy, GRENex, and Hemp Extraction. Throughout the expo’s Farm Symposium and the conference at large, conversations focused on hemp’s ability to sequester carbon and fight climate change. The crop is being hailed as a lifesaving one for both people and planet.

Kristy Hebert, founder of Louisiana-based company Cypress Hemp, shared how cannabis helped her recover from an accident with a drunk driver. “I personally have a chemical sensitivity to opioids, where I couldn’t keep anything down… My background’s in biological engineering, but [my experience with cannabis is] how this all started.”

Retired Navy Combat veteran Greg Keeley, founder of Courage CBD, explained that he created the brand to help veterans and first responders who wouldn’t normally use cannabinoids. “If you’re a fireman, a nurse, a policeman, in the military, you can’t take regular full-[spectrum] CBD because you’re worried about failing a… drug test. And even me, still going to the VA, I have to do drug tests once a month. So we’ve created Courage – it’s all ethanol-alcohol-distilled.” Keeley added that while he traditionally hasn’t marketed Courage to CBD or hemp expos, he found SHE3 different and eye-opening. “We’ve made some really good contacts, other veterans’ companies [whom] we are going to work with moving forward.”

One of the hemp industry’s buzzwords lately has been “Delta-8,” a hemp-derived cannabinoid that merges the energizing high of THC with the health benefits and focus of CBD. Numerous exhibitors at SHE3 debuted Delta-8 products and discussed the isomer’s potential to rock the market. Christopher Lamb, Vice President of North Carolina-based brand Nice Cannabis, praised the way that Delta-8 products deliver the full, pure flavors of terpenes and flower to consumers.

According to Greg Hensley of Alternative Health Distribution, a company that’s worked with Delta-8 for the past five years, “It’s really amazing how hemp has gone so far in the South and how accepting [the region has] been… You know, we’re in America. Healthcare is not the greatest here. So anything that a person can use to empower their own health decisions is immensely invaluable to them… We just want to keep spreading the message and helping people out as much as we can about what Delta-8 and the other great cannabinoids can do for people.”

Testimony in favor of hemp’s power to transform modern society, and passion for the plant, were almost unanimous. Byron Cameron, Vice President of Sales and Product Development for Hemp Family Farms, expressed that he has believed in growing hemp since his teenage years. BamBino, creator of the Georgia-based CBD brand Atlanta Sauce Company, asserted enthusiastically how her formulas and topicals not only alleviate pain, but also aid in repairing damaged skin and hair.

Yet for all the industry’s advancement, some entrepreneurs are still facing mainstream stigmas. “I manufacture industrial goods, nothing consumable. I still can’t get a bank account,” commented Dave Crabill, co-founder of iHemp Manufacturing. “’Cause “hemp” is in my [company] name. So yeah, we need your help, you know, to get the word out.”

As cannabis data economist Beau Whitney of Whitney Economics told conference attendees, hemp is on track to be the fourth largest row crop in the United States, behind only corn, soybean, and cotton. Opportunities for fiber and grain are “astronomical,” he said – and further industrial applications will be groundbreaking – but the Food and Drug Administration's reluctance to regulate hemp foods and supplements presents a challenge to investors. The road forward is difficult, requiring a nationwide (and international) team effort to get things moving.

“It’s important for policymakers to get out of the way and let this industry take off,” Whitney encouraged.

For Team Honeysuckle, hemp is the present and the future. Check out the video for more of our discoveries at SHE3, and stay tuned for all kinds of exciting updates from the hemp industry!