Laid back is not how you would describe D.C. resident Ben Droz. When he picks up a new interest, it becomes his passion — like industrial hemp.
Extracted from the stem of the cannabis plant — the same plant more popularly known for marijuana — industrial hemp can be used to make rope, fabric, car dashboards and cosmetics.
As a college student majoring in sociology and anthropology and minoring in cognitive science, Droz realized he better get moving if he was going to make an impact on the world.
Combining his early love for making necklaces out of hemp fiber and selling them at craft fairs with his urge to be involved in the climate change movement, the 28-year-old began studying industrial hemp.
He wrote college papers on the subject. He then sent those papers to hemp-related organizations to get a summer internship.
Vote Hemp in Washington, D.C. hired him as an intern in his junior year of college, and Droz has been working for the advocacy group ever since. He currently is legislative liaison and spends his days lobbying Congress, detailing the advantages of industrial hemp.
Because the product is derived from the same plant as marijuana, under federal law it is a Schedule 1 drug, grouped in with heroin. That is why Droz sometimes has been accused of working for Vote Hemp so he can get high. “I just say, ‘That’s a different issue. That’s a personal issue.’”
But the anti-hemp tide is turning. Twenty-four states, including Maryland and Virginia, now allow hemp production or research. Last year’s federal farm bill included an industrial hemp pilot program to study growth, cultivation and marketing.
Even marijuana is experiencing a wave of support and is legal, mostly for medicinal uses, in about one-fourth of the states.
Obtaining permits from the Department of Agriculture and Drug Enforcement Administration is often enough to discourage farmers from growing a hemp crop, Droz said.
“Hemp is healthy. Hemp is healthy for farmers. Hemp is healthy for jobs,” he said, repeating the message he works to get out. Hemp is the new and improved flax, he added.
His enthusiasm for hemp is all-consuming. He carries a briefcase made from biocomposite materials including hemp. Hemp socks, shirts and ties populate his wardrobe. “I always have something on” that is made from hemp. “It’s breathable and comfortable” and doesn’t need to be washed as often, he said.
Droz views hemp “as a very concrete way” to help the environment, reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides and increase sustainability.
Young people no longer dream of buying a house. They want to follow their passion while working to improve the world, according to Droz. And when it comes to the environment, there is no time to wait, he said.
“I am not even worried about my kids. I am worried about me,” said Droz, who became a bar mitzvah at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh.
Droz equates his passion for hemp to his late grandfather’s passion for Judaism and tikkun olam. While attending the U.S. Military Academy, Jesse Cohen, the former head of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and who died in in 2012, successfully fought for a place for Jews to worship at West Point there.
Droz’s passion does not come with a large paycheck, so he takes on photography jobs, including weddings and b’nai mitzvahs.
That leaves Droz little free time. His skateboarding days, while not over, have been curtailed. “It was really hard on my body. I was feeling old. My back hurt. My knees hurt.”
That just leaves more time to spread the word that hemp is “super healthy, a premium product in its early stages.”