INDIANA — Stacey Freibert isn’t one for flashy advertisements. You won’t see neon signs or strings of colorful flags outside her natural food store, called Seeds and Greens, in New Albany. But Freibert has made one, subtle exception: two signs on her door advertising products made from cannabidiol, or CBD.
It’s an indication of just how important CBD has become for Freibert’s business over the past nine months. Since December, CBD products have slowly begun to dominate Seeds and Greens sales. The store now offers eight brands of oils, capsules and creams, which promise to help with a laundry list of ailments, including seizures, pain, inflammation, anxiety and more.
Research on CBD is limited, but clinical trials have shown that it is effective in treating epilepsy, and other, preliminary research shows promising results for its treatment of other medical conditions (including some of the ones Freibert likes to advertise), according to a World Health Organization report.
While CBD is a compound found in the cannabis plant, it doesn’t cause the psychoactive high associated with marijuana. That’s inflicted by THC, a separate compound. In fact, WHO says there are no public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD at all.
Freibert started selling CBD at her store three years ago, but she considered it a niche item that only a handful of her customers wanted. At the time, there were no laws pertaining to CBD product sales in Indiana.
In June 2017, though, the Indiana State Excise Police raided a Fresh Thyme store in Indianapolis, swiping thousands of dollars worth of CBD products from the shelves. The raid came just two months after the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill that made it legal for epilepsy patients to take CBD, but which didn’t address the buying and selling of it.
In the following months, CBD confusion reigned. The excise police stopped taking it from shelves, but soon Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill was declaring it illegal. Eventually, Gov. Eric Holcomb stepped in to say that stores were, in fact, allowed to sell CBD products.
With each new development and each flurry of media coverage, Freibert believes Hoosiers began to learn more about CBD — and start wanting it more and more.
Josh Hendrix, the director of business development for CV Sciences, a top retail supplier of CBD products in the United States, noticed an uptick in sales for the company following the raid and its media coverage. By December, CV Science’s Indiana customers were buying more than those in any other state. Eight months later, that still holds true.
In March of this year, the governor signed a bill officially classifying hemp-derived CBD products as legal as long as their THC levels are at or below 0.3 percent.
The legislation did come with a caveat: Manufacturers had to wrap all their Indiana-sold products in special labels sporting QR codes. When scanned, the codes provide information about the batch of CBD from which the product came.
Businesses originally balked at the suggestion, but CV Sciences now plants the special labels on all its products, no matter what state they’re being sold in, and Hendrix says he’s happy to be benefiting customers across the country by doing so.
CV Sciences did sustain some extra costs in the beginning when switching over to the new labels, Hendrix said, but today, the CBD business is as strong as ever.
Freibert now sells 15 to 20 CBD products every day, a big difference from when she started. She attributes her take-off in sales, not to legalization, but to customer education and word-of-mouth. Still, she no longer has to periodically pull CBD from her shelves thanks to the law, and she can now freely advertise her stock.
Since March, state Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Blairsville), who co-authored the CBD legalization bill, said that he’s noticed more and more stores around Indiana selling the products: from health food shops to convenience stores.
But while CBD sales are good, hemp advocates say that Indiana is missing out on taking advantage of a larger part of the industry. There’s hope, though, that the CBD bill could have been a first step to making this happen.
THE REST OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN
John Taylor works right next to a police station, but if he owned the same business in Indiana that he does in Kentucky, he might be a target of law enforcement instead of their neighbor.
Taylor manufacturers CBD in Louisville, Ky., through his company, Commonwealth Extracts — headquartered just two miles across the Ohio River from Indiana. He owns a 133,000-square-foot building where he employs Kentucky residents and buys hemp grown by Kentucky farmers.
Last year, Kentucky-licensed hemp processors like Taylor reported $25.6 million in capital investments and $16.7 million in sales, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. They also paid farmers $7.5 million, creating 81 new full-time jobs.
That’s money to which businesses in Indiana have no access. While the manufacturing of CBD isn’t illegal, there’s nothing in state law saying it’s OK, either. And hemp farming is only legalized for research purposes, which means that Purdue University is the only organization doing so.
Without these two components, Indiana is only participating in 25 percent of the hemp supply chain, said Jessica Scott, the executive director of the Indiana Hemp Industries Association. She believes that this is doing the state an economic disservice.
Hemp, from which CBD can be derived, does not contain much, if any, of the psychoactive compound THC. Instead of being used as a drug, it’s grown to create a variety of products, from cooking oils to car parts.
Advocates see hemp as a way to take advantage of Indiana’s strong agricultural infrastructure, and an opportunity to grow another crop that doesn’t need subsidies to be profitable. The plant is a natural fit for Indiana, too, where hemp farming was common during World War II when the practice was temporarily legalized to support the war effort.
Despite its harmlessness, the federal government did not allow hemp farming until 2014. That year, the Farm Bill gave states the permission to create pilot programs to start growing their own. Some, like Indiana, have yet to create a commercial program, partly because the plant is still considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Opponents of hemp farming say that growers could use it as a front for marijuana production. The Kentucky government fights against this by testing hemp before its sent to processors and by performing background checks on license holders, Taylor said.
Because of the DEA’s stance on hemp, the country still relies heavily on imports. Last year, $67.3 million in hemp seeds and fibers came to the United States form other countries, according to data from the U.S. International Trade Commission.
This could change with a new proposition, tucked in the 2018 Farm Bill, to finally remove industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. The effort is being spearheaded by Sen. Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. The senate majority leader campaigned for the 2014 bill and has watched as his efforts have paid off.
A new federal classification for hemp would be welcome in the Indiana Legislature, where an effort to create a pilot program has been slowly growing.
Last year, an Indiana House bill to create one was stripped by the Senate amid concerns that it would: one, anger the DEA and two, overburden the Indiana Department of Agriculture, which is not a regulatory agency.
The issue was remanded to a summer study committee, where it’s flourished. A preliminary draft of legislation has been created that would launch an industrial hemp program, if passed. The next step is for a legislator to introduce a fully-fledged bill in the 2019 session. Scott hopes it happens soon.
“We’ve got to move now,” she said. “Our neighbors are moving quickly and they are miles ahead of us, as are many other states in the country.”
Growing hemp for commercial purposes has been legal in Kentucky since 2014, but Illinois just took the step to start a program this year. It’s still illegal in Ohio and Michigan.
Farmers and hemp processors, including potential CBD manufacturers, are currently lining up to take advantage of an industrial hemp program, if created. The hemp chapter of the Indiana Farmers Union already has 32 members, according to its president, Marty Mahan, who himself is eyeing hemp farming as a way to diversify his family homestead that has been around for over 100 years.
Jeff Cummins, the director of public affairs for the Indiana Department of Agriculture, thinks it’s “entirely possible” that the Legislature passes a bill next year to create an industrial hemp pilot program. That’s based on the conversations he’s had with lawmakers and the summer study committee meetings he attended. There are already officials interested in introducing the legislation, including Sen. Randy Head (R-Logansport), a member of the study committee.
Most lawmakers in the Statehouse seem to be educated on hemp, said Justin Swanson, the president of the Midwest Hemp Council.
He thinks that the legalization of CBD has been a stepping stone to more pro-hemp laws. A year ago, it wasn’t clear who was allowed to take CBD, let alone sell it. Now, there are hardly any restrictions.
The shift has been “seismic,” he said.
THE PEOPLE IT HELPS
For a bill with a business focus, you’d think that the authors of the legislation that officially legalized CBD would know the exact dollar amount that their efforts are currently pumping into the state’s economy.
But Sen. Tomes doesn't.
“The honest answer is, it didn’t come to mind I guess, because I was focused on the families and the children that I’d come to meet,” he said.
Tomes was motivated to write his bill by a grassroots group of parents of children with epilepsy and other illnesses who saw CBD as a medicine that could solve their problems without producing side effects.
Like Tomes, Freibert doesn’t like to talk about sales of CBD for long. That’s not what it’s about for her.
“What I get most excited about, seriously, is more that it is helping and healing and taking care of so many health issues than it is turning a profit,” Freibert said.
Just six months ago, John Walling was slowly succumbing to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a disorder he was diagnosed with three years ago. At night, excruciating leg cramps from Walling’s toes to his hips kept him from sleeping. During the day, a cognitive fogginess hindered his ability to work as deftly as he used to.
Walling used to take daily doses of over-the-counter pain medication for his ailments. But the pills were starting to have a deleterious effect on his liver and kidneys, and he kept on hearing from friends how much CBD had helped them.
Within five to seven days of taking his first dose, Walling started to see improvements — with his pain and his concentration.
“It’s just like, it’s everything,” he said. “The edge was taken off and it just eased everything.”
Walling still takes medication for other symptoms of Parkinson’s, but not pain, even after undergoing shoulder replacement surgery in February.
“None,” he said. “No opiates, no over-the-counter. No anything.”
But there is one downside for CBD’s adherents: The price. Walling estimates that he spends around $100 a month buying his products.
Walling, who works in Indiana but lives in Kentucky, does not buy his CBD from Seeds and Greens. But his stories are similar to those of Freibert’s customers. She estimates that 90 percent of people who have bought CBD from here have seen at least some results from taking it.
Walling has several friends who have taken CBD, too, and it’s worked for all of them, as well. The relief they feel now might not ever have occurred if not for the CBD bill.
Walling’s a rule follower — someone who doesn’t do things if there’s a chance that it will jeopardize his job. When it wasn’t clear if CBD was legal to sell or not, some stores continued to offer it and other customers turned to online ordering.
Walling wouldn’t have. And he would have missed out on some much-needed peace.