“I envision a future where the Fords, the GMs, the Stellantis of the world take plastic out of their cars and supply them with industrial hemp to replace those plastics, reducing their carbon footprint,” said NBA president Isiah Thomas. star, cannabis entrepreneur and CEO of the publicly traded One World Products, the largest Black-controlled, licensed hemp and cannabis producer in Colombia.
While this may sound innovative, hemp cars were a reality even in 2022, some 80 years before that. In 1941 Henry Ford presented a prototype car with a body made largely of plant materials such as soybeans, wheat, hemp and flax. Ford went even further and asked Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine, to develop a special, unique drive system for this car: the vehicle would also run on vegetable and hemp oil.
Today, Thomas’s company also works on hemp auto parts. Under a recent agreement with Stellantis, the world’s seventh largest automaker and owner of Chrysler, Citroën, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Peugeot and other portfolio brands, One World Products will develop and supply hemp-based bioplastic components for automotive interiors and exteriors.
According to an recent reportNot only is hemp a more eco-friendly option to traditional plastics, which would help mitigate the automotive industry’s massive impact on Co2 emissionsbut it is also stronger than steel and lighter than fiberglass. In addition, many hemp plastics completely biodegradableso that their production approaches CO2 neutrality.
While the hemp materials space is still not very busy, a few other companies have also seen its potential. In Argentina, the Chanvre brand makes the most beautiful hemp glasses you’ve ever seen. Likewise, Nebraska’s Hemp3D, which also makes eyeglasses, recently released a chess set made from hemp. And US-based Santa Cruz Shredder also uses hemp plastic to make cannabis accessories.
In 2019, the CEO of CBD company Elixinol Global, Paul Benhaim, launched the Hemp Plastic Company, with the intention of using the waste from the CBD production of the first to make hemp-based bioplastics. The Hemp Foundation is doing something similar. Meanwhile, Sana Packaging uses hemp and reclaimed plastics to create sustainable packaging for cannabis companies.
Examples like these abound, and one thing is clear: the planet needs sustainable plastics, and these early entrants will benefit from this trend.
The Afro-Colombian Connection and Isiah’s Hemp Cars
“See us as the raw material supplier of hemp and cannabis to the industry. We grow and cultivate in Colombia because of the equatorial advantages it gives us, we work with the indigenous farmers and we work with the soil and the sun. Not just in the CBD space, but also in the hemp space,” Thomas explained in an exclusive interview at an event in Miami.
“We are working closely with the automotive industry to reduce its carbon footprint by replacing some of their plastics with hemp, we also work in the construction industry. When we look at plastic, everything will be made from hemp and we want to be the largest supplier of that. Not only can you use hemp to build the car, but also for fuel, food and plastic.”
In May, One World Products and AMUNAFRO, the National Association of Mayors of Municipalities with Afro-Colombian Populations, announced that they had entered into an agreement partnership to manage more than a million hectares in Colombia to focus on industrial hemp production. One World will produce hemp and hemp derivatives in collaboration with local farmers to provide the car industry with plastic substitutes, among other things.
Thomas delved into issues such as the need for a global productive transition to sustainable agriculture and manufacturing and reducing our carbon footprint. In addition, the CEO noted the comparative advantages that Colombia offers for growing hemp, including the people, the soil and equatorial lighting.
“This factory is also one-stop shopping for the world. You must have the supply to meet the demand (…) [and] we want to supply to industries that are looking for ‘the big shift’,” he added.
Local farmers: a vital asset to the cannabis industry
For Thomas, human resources are vital to the production of high-value goods, including hemp. Fortunately, he was able to build on his experience in champagne and the industry where he has already achieved success with his brand Cheurlin Champagne.
Local know-how can help anticipate bottlenecks in cannabis companies’ supply chains, innovate and differentiate products, improve resource utilization and research, and preserve local culture and the environment.
“I didn’t realize I was entering the agricultural sector when I got into champagne. I learned that the soil, the sun and the farmers make the best grape. When I wanted to make the transition into the cannabis world, to understand the business, you know… the endocannabinoid system, the THC, etc., it became [a question of] ‘where is the best place where we can get the best of the best for the lowest price?’ And Colombia has achieved all its goals,” Thomas said.
The former NBA player also noted that the company anticipates a global policy trend in the design of consumer goods and habits, that of sustainable materials with a negative environmental footprint.
“When it comes to the use of hemp, we are talking about its thousands of uses. It is a great opportunity for us and for the world. We believe that if the world continues to look at reducing its carbon footprint, the world will return to a natural place, to the use of hemp and what it can do across the board,” Thomas explained.
The ‘THC side’
As a former athlete, Thomas is excited about cannabinoids and what they can do for pain relief, sleep and inflammation. He thinks cannabinoids have been made invisible by negative propaganda, even though people have been using them for millennia.
“I think people instinctively always knew how effective this plant was. I thank the people in the room at the conference for their diligence, perseverance and efforts to educate people about the benefits [of cannabis] because it interacts with your body in a natural way,” added the CEO. “If I look at it from an educational point of view, the fascinating thing I’ve discovered, if you look at Colombia, you’ve got the Caribbean, you’ve got the Atlantic and you’ve got the Pacific. Cultural differences coming together, learning how to use the land for medicinal purposes, for eating purposes, is really unique, one plant does it all.”
-Cannabis is mainly stigmatized in the sports world, how do we overcome that?
We have to understand that the plant has been put to sleep here in the industry so that other synthetic industries and medicines could grow. And understand how the US works from a business point of view. And give credit to those companies for the propaganda they used against the factory and the misinformation. Business they did their thing. But this is the beauty of the plant. The plant says your time is up.