Effectively illegal since 1937 in some form or another, the nation's policy on the cannabis plant-derived hemp changed drastically when U.S. Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill.
That bill legalized commercial production of hemp – a hotly-contested issue – and soon enough individual states followed suit.
Few people would have predicted it to happen.
Well, Jason Roberts did. Or, at the very least, he was hopeful.
In early 2018, Roberts and his partners discussed producing and distributing high-quality organically grown cannabidiol, CBD, hemp products.
With that idea, their company opened its first Purely CBD store in south Arlington in September 2018.
Fast forward exactly a year, the company now has 41 active Purely CBD store locations. Out of which, about a dozen are in Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Purely CBD sells CBD-infused water soluble, oils, tinctures, edibles, CBD clearomizers, skincare, pain cream and also pet care products.
Additionally, about 65 new stores are in the pipeline. The company has expanded to 11 states.
One of the latest, Purely CBD of Fort Worth Hulen, opened in late August.
The company currently operates out of the Arlington flagship store. But the company plans to move its headquarters to a much larger space, about four miles north from the current facility.
Business is good.
And, more importantly, the hemp and cannabis industry in Texas is finally flourishing and looks destined to grow more.
Although the federal government had passed the Farm Bill in December 2018, Texas kept quiet on the issue of industrial hemp for almost six months.
With the passing of HB 1325 in May of this year, the Texas Legislature authorized the production, manufacture, retail sale and inspection of hemp crops and products in Texas.
"We were working in probably what you'd consider a grey area of the law," Roberts said.
"So, when the Texas Legislature passed that law that basically legalized everything about CBD, that just benefited our business," he added.
Hemp products were made legal in Texas. But, similar to the federal law, the catch is that the products cannot contain more than 0.3% THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis plants.
Anything more than 0.3% THC is considered marijuana and still deemed illegal.
"We're not interested in legalization of marijuana. That's not our side, that's not our business," Roberts said. "That's [not] our model We were just really concerned about making sure not only our voices but our customers' voices are heard."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) has not approved any CBD products, except for one California-based company's prescription drug.
So, companies selling hemp products are prohibited from making any health claims, just yet.
Roberts said that his customers tell him they use CBD for relief related to pain, anxiety, depression, seizures and many other health issues.
Roberts, a veteran with disability, uses CBD products himself as a replacement for narcotics and other pain medications, he said.
The hemp fibers and stalks are also used in making clothing items, construction materials, paper, biofuel and plastic composites.
According to Brightfield Group, a Chicago-based market research firm, the hemp-derived CBD market in 2019 increased by 706% from last year to become a $5 billion industry. The firm estimates the market will be worth $22 billion by 2022.
Following the new hemp regulations, Texas has the potential to be the most lucrative market in the nation.
“This is all about taking the shackles off the American farmer,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller had said in an official statement. “It is time to finally end the ban on industrial hemp and free Texas farmers to produce this valuable commodity. In today’s economy, our farmers need maximum flexibility to diversify their production and thrive."
However, the cannabis plants used to make products for Texas companies like Purely CBD are grown in other states, mostly Colorado and Oregon.
This fall, USDA is expected to release rules and guidelines for state hemp programs. Following the guidelines, the Texas Department of Agriculture will submit a state hemp plan to USDA for approval.
This is the type of confusion and uncertainty Texas entrepreneurs still face, although HB 1325 passed earlier this year.
"I don't think anybody's going to beat us when it comes to hemp and CBD," said Chad Slaieh, a hemp advocate based in Dallas. "We just have so many people that live here, so many business people and so much land that we should be a dominant state in the nation for this."
Slaieh and others are calling it the "Green Rush of Texas," comparing it to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s.
"There's a lot of money involved," Slaieh said. "You can make a lot of money whether you're a cultivator, you have a dispensary, you're selling products. Everybody wants it."
To educate entrepreneurs and showcase what the future holds for Texas' hemp industry, Slaieh is organizing the Lucky Leaf Expo on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 at Irving Convention Center.
Lucky Leaf Expo is a large-scale cannabis conference, the first-ever event of its kind in Texas.
"The purpose of it is to bring everybody together, so they can have an idea how to start a business," Slaieh said. "They need to know where they can get the resources from. They need to know what the rules and regulations for hemp is now that it is legal."
Leaders and professionals from backgrounds in business, law, policymaking, agriculture, science and health are set to speak at the conference. All in all, about 45 speakers have been booked.
There are panel discussions and various presentations scheduled during the two-day event.
The conference also features about 80 exhibitors from across the country.
Lucky Leaf Expo hopes to draw in about 3000 attendees.
The organizers are planning to hold the expo annually. The options for next year's venue is either Dallas or Austin, Slaieh said.
According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, the hemp growing permit application process should begin in 2020.
Once hemp, cultivation of which requires a humid atmosphere, starts growing in the state, Texas business owners can expect the cost of producing hemp products to decrease significantly.
"There's a possibility that if the politicians see how much money we're making from hemp and everything, they may even recreationalize medical marijuana," Slaieh said. "So, the future holds a lot of green promises. It's going to be really good."