Anne Bibeau’s budding hemp practice
Published in 2020 Virginia Super Lawyers magazine
on May 12, 2020
Updated on May 13, 2020
“There’s a lot of risk involved,” Anne Bibeau says, “but it’s also exciting.”
The 48-year-old Vandeventer Black partner is talking hemp.
Vandeventer Black first established its hemp industry niche in early 2019 as industrial hemp production became legalized nationwide. When some of the firm’s corporate clients began to ask questions about entering the industry, the partners realized the firm was uniquely positioned to answer them. For one, the firm is seasoned in counseling businesses, and “a lot of the advice is the same kind that clients in any industry would need.” For another, one of the partners, Jonathan Gallo, was formerly part of the government team that developed New Hampshire’s therapeutic cannabis program.
Gallo and Bibeau co-chair the practice, which includes a multidisciplinary legal team. “We can cover all aspects of the hemp and medical cannabis business, like labor and employment, banking and financing, business and professional licensing, litigation, commercial real estate and cybersecurity, among others,” Bibeau says.
The hemp industry is fast-paced and rife with complicated issues. “Most often clients contact us to assist them in understanding the intricate and often confusing state of the law with regard to hemp and hemp production and various federal and state requirements,” she says. She notes a lack of federal guidance as well as issues regarding regulatory compliance as just two concerns. Licensing is thorny, too. “You do have to get a license in order to grow and process hemp or be a dealer—the middleman between processors and farmers, essentially,” she says.
Her clients come to her with questions on hemp production, hemp-derived products, intellectual property issues and other business transactions related to the industry. “We’ve seen disputes regarding the seeds that had been purchased to grow hemp—about the quality and the IP,” she says. Bibeau notes intellectual property issues arise not only in the naming of products, businesses and strains, but also the seeds.
With a background in labor and employment law, Bibeau can also answers questions having to do with drug testing and the use of medical marijuana, for instance, and how that might be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“You have to work harder to educate everyone,” says Bibeau.”These days she’s also doing more listening. “You’ll hear terms like hemp and marijuana used interchangeably and incorrectly. They’re both varieties of the same plant, but one’s legal, and one’s illegal,” says Bibeau. “One has high quantities of THC, one has low quantities of THC, and they’re treated differently under the law.”
Bibeau worries about the rate at which the hemp industry is growing and how it might affect businesses and their customers. “The industry’s basically outstripping regulation, and the government isn’t able to do its job and give guidance to businesses and consumers,” she says. For example, hemp is defined as having a THC concentration of 0.3%—“a kind of arbitrary number, so there is a lot of push in the industry to see if that can be raised. You can plant a field with every intention of growing legally permissible hemp, but through chemical changes outside the farmer’s control, a plant can go from a permissible level of THC to over 0.3 and is termed ‘hot,’ and has to be destroyed.”
She’s also concerned about the number of people entering the industry. “In some states there’s too much of a supply because so many people are jumping into growing hemp. If production outstrips demand, then you have prices plummeting, which can be a huge risk for farmers growing it,” Bibeau says.
Bibeau envisions a general loosening of the laws relating to marijuana use. “I think there is an overwhelming consensus among Americans that the laws need to be changed,” says Bibeau. “I would say sometime in the next five years we’ll see some significant movement.”