Kalee Hooghkirk (Submitted).

While cannabis and THC was getting lots of media eyeballs, Kalee Hooghkirk decided that CBD hemp was a fast-growing opportunity that needs a market and organized advocacy of its own. When the national Hemp Industries Association ended their local states organizations, Hooghkirk quickly launched an organization of her own, The Midwest Hemp Coalition, with a big agenda.

“The Midwest Hemp Coalition is going to push forward. Working with Chicago NORML, we’ll be doing an educational series on hemp, to understand what we’re doing with the industry. We’re doing a pitch competition for hemp entrepreneurs to help them get education and resources,” Hooghkirk told Grown In last week. She also has plans to bring women and minorities into the hemp industry.

“We want to encourage people not just through the education route and encourage the ancillary services for the industry. We need to build the infrastructure from the inside out so people can bring these services to market.”

She has a big job to do. While industrial hemp is growing in Illinois, producing 2.27 million pounds of total yield to 631 licensees in the first legal year, the vast majority of hemp planted is fibrous, not for CBD. Complicating matters, fibrous hemp has some processors in Illinois, but CBD hemp does not. And the quality of CBD hemp is inconsistent, with many growers producing high volumes of flower, with low CBD content levels.

Hooghkirk is undaunted, creating her own CBD farm, United Hemp Co., and her own CBD retail outlet in West Dundee, Illinois, Full Spektrum Services.

“You have to create that market, find the sales outlet. And farmers aren’t always prepared to do that, that they’ll have to be involved from seed to sale. There’s a reality that they will have to do those things,” she said. “They have to be willing to do it from seed to sale, they are the grower, the marketer, and the business person.”

“If you’re doing your homework and making your connections, you can find places to process. And making demand for the product before growing. I believe a lot of these farmers have put seeds in the ground without looking for that part. They are expecting to find those buyers in September or October, rather than looking for them in January, February. Our store is picking up faster than normal. We haven’t noticed there is a struggle with demand,” Hooghkirk says.

Hooghkirk’s agenda for the Midwest Hemp Coalition is ambitious.

“Building this coalition allows us to expand out and partner with people we think are marking progress in the United States,” she says. For instance, “creating cohesive action between the states, like probable cause for smell [during traffic stops]. We don’t want one state to be stricter between than another. We also want to make sure transport [of hemp products] between states is not a problem.”


Editor Mike is a co-founder and the editor of Grown In, a U.S. national cannabis industry newsletter and training company. His career has taken him from Capitol Hill to Chicago City Hall, from...