In many ways, the hemp industry in Texas still has a “wild west” feel, as many of the cannabidiol, or CBD, products are sold in head shops and gas stations. Bayou City Hemp Company, one of the first hemp processing plants to open in the state later this month, took Reform Austin behind the scenes to see how they are bringing expertise, transparency and a dedication to consistent quality to hemp production.
Located in West Houston, the new facility that opened in March took over from a lab that tested fracking materials. It’s a fitting metaphor for the birth of BCHC as founders Ben Meggs and Jeromy Sherman both came from the oil and gas industry. Their hemp endeavors follow the 2014 Farm Bill that legalized its growth and sale. Sherman also comes from a family of farmers.
Though still in the final buildout phase, the equipment is high-tech and gleaming as well as operated by Houstonians who have gathered their expertise from stints in other states that were ahead of the hemp boom. Many of them have advanced science degrees, or like Meggs and Sherman, come from oil and gas. The processes are actually not that dissimilar.
Giant 150-pound bags of hemp are brought into the facility for processing into oil or powder, which takes roughly a week from start to finish. The hemp is first ground, then baked in order to carbonize it and remove the acids so that it changes the chemical from cannabidiolic acid to CBD as the body does not process CBDa. CBD is cannabidiol.
From there, it is winterized overnight with ethanol and further distilled. The resulting oil is a honey-colored liquid that can be made into tinctures, gummies and other products. The powder form can be used for protein shake additives or dry makeup. The tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) aspect, the part that makes people high, is removed and sent off-site for legal destruction.
Meggs and Sherman showed off a variety of finished products that are made through their partnership with LeafLife Wellness, another Houston company and part of the founders’ desire to fully bring the hemp industry into Texas. CBD is finding its way into more and more aspects of life thanks to the perception of it as a wellness product. Everything from shampoo to products for combating inflammation to additives for morning coffee are getting their start in BCHP.
The tour leaders stressed an adherence to good business procedures and the often-tangled web of Texas regulation. Meggs and Sherman expect that keeping up with stringent state and federal protocols will likely weed out some of the smaller, garage-based processors. They not only do their own in-house testing for quality control; they send regular samples out to state-approved third-party testing facilities to make sure everything meets the current hemp laws. They are also pursuing Good Manufacturing Practice certification in an effort to make their work completely transparent and trustworthy to consumers and business partners.
The opening of BCHC is an indicator that the hemp industry might have legs in Texas despite the late start and some disappointing initial results. All of the biomass in their plant at the moment is from Colorado, but they have multiple contracts with Texas farmers for when the late October harvest happens. BCHC also employs a full-time farmer liaison to work with the agriculture sector. Having a place guaranteed to buy is essential for Texas farmers when trying out new crop, and BCHC is ready to start making their facility locally sourced from beginning to end.
Nationwide, the hemp industry is expected to grow to $25 billion by 2025, and right now there remains a significant bottleneck between growers and companies like BCHP that process the crops. With Texas being the agricultural giant it is these plants could be a substantial new source of economic activity, especially with depressed oil prices.
Want to manufacture or sell HEMP yourself?
The Texas Department of State Health Services is currently accepting applications for consumable hemp product licenses and retailer registrations.
A license to manufacture, process and distribute consumable Hemp products is required. The fee for an initial license, valid for one year, is $258 per facility.
Retailers selling consumable hemp products, including those containing cannabinoids, are also required to have a license and must register each location where the products will be sold no later than Oct. 2. The fee for an initial registration, valid for one year, is $155 per location.
In addition to licensing and registration functions, DSHS will conduct random testing of consumable hemp products. Products may be tested for the presence of heavy metals, harmful pathogens, pesticides, residual solvents and to ensure they do not contain more than 0.3 percent concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.