Though it’s been around and readily available for years—if you knew where to look for it—the legalization of the retail sale and manufacturing of CBD products by the Louisiana Legislature earlier this year is triggering a rush in Baton Rouge as people look to buy and sell products derived from hemp.
Gas stations, vape shops, health boutiques and even neighborhood coffee shops across the city are carrying products infused with CBD, a compound extracted from hemp that supporters claim has myriad health benefits. Two brick-and-mortar shops have opened in the Capital Region to sell CBD products exclusively—Aurora CBD on Airline Highway and HealthyU CBD on Essen Lane, in the heart of the health district.
And like dominoes, as products increasingly appear on shelves, people are lining up to buy them. U.S. sales of CBD products reached $238 million in 2018, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, up 57% from 2017. Though those watching the industry are generally optimistic about the market’s potential, experts have varying opinions on its future valuation, with some predicting sales could reach up to $22 billion by 2022.
Baton Rouge native Joe Mapes, a lobbyist, hadn’t considered using the cannabis-based products before walking in on two of his 85-year-old aunts rubbing CBD products on their knees.
At 57, Mapes has the usual assortment of aches and pains that would be expected with aging, along with a few other complementary injuries picked up from years of weightlifting. Following his aunties’ lead, Mapes tried a CBD muscle rub on his right leg after an especially tricky injury.
“As I was walking across the room, I thought to myself that there was no way it was working,” Mapes recalls, “but it was. Of course, it was only temporary, but temporary relief when you have serious pain is a big deal.”
Since then, CBD has become a regular staple in his life. He uses it for lower back pain and even found it reduces the symptoms of his swollen prostate. He and his wife take droppers of CBD oil daily, and he also shares some with his two chihuahuas, a move he says saved his elderly dog’s life.
“Tia was shutting down, laying in my wife’s arms and we were both crying,” Mapes recalls.
After giving Tia a quarter dropper full of CBD oil, he says, she became “bright-eyed like a puppy.”
“CBD not only saved my dog’s life,” he says, “it’s kept her alive since.”
‘Like the Wild West’
Dr. Meredith Warner, a Baton Rouge orthopedic surgeon and founder of The Healing Sole, has always been interested in natural and less interventional medicine, so exploring how CBD and other oils can help her patients was a natural step for her. For the past four years, she’s been developing The Well Theory, a line of products with CBD and other essential oils to help with pain management and synergizing the body.
“I’ve been very disenchanted with what we’ve done in terms of the opioid crisis,” she says. “Western medicine has done a disservice in a lot of ways. I’d like to marry Western and natural medicine.”
With state approval for the sale of CBD products, she’s moving forward with launching her company later this summer, with an initial rollout of CBD-infused vitamins and oils, as well as a cream and spray. Along with CBD, she’s incorporated six essential oils into her products that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Although she expects most of her sales to come from out-of-state customers, she thinks Louisiana is uniquely positioned to benefit from this new industry because of it’s notorious health struggles.
“We are one of the unhealthiest states and we have one of the highest addiction rates in the country, so we need alternatives,” Warner says. “Because Louisiana has so many health problems, the state could really benefit from CBD.”
“The guys who made money during the gold rush weren’t looking for gold, they sold the shovel.”
CHRIS CHERAMIE, seated, along with founder Gene Bayne, of Widgett Scientific
Widgett Scientific, a scientific glass maker located off Choctaw Drive, is also jumping into the CBD game. Founder Gene Bayne, who’s produced equipment for ExxonMobil and DOW, recognizes the potential of the hemp and marijuana industry.
After being approached by a potential client, Widgett began developing equipment to extract CBD oil from hemp. The deal didn’t work out, but General Manager Chris Cheramie says he knew they had to go to market with the new extractor.
“The guys who made money during the gold rush weren’t looking for gold, they sold the shovel,” Cheramie says, comparing the equipment to ancillary equipment produced for the oil and gas industry.
While prices for extraction equipment currently start at $40,000 to $50,000, Widgett’s device cuts the cost nearly in half. Other extraction equipment uses carbon dioxide or nitrogen to keep the extracted oils cold enough, but Widgett’s new device uses dry ice and acetone, creating a colder—and much cheaper—extraction process.
Cheramie expects much of their business to come from labs in Colorado, California and Washington, as well as mom-and-pop CBD startups that want to extract their own CBD oils. While the device stands nearly six-feet tall, Widgett is also designing a smaller version that can be transported in a suitcase and strip the CBD oil out of hemp in three hours.
“There’s a ton of money in this industry, and we would be remiss not to get into this,” Cheramie says. “This market is like the Wild West.”
Also stepping into the free market, however, is Alcohol and Tobacco Control, the state agency charged with licensing and regulating the sale of hemp-derived CBD products. Shortly after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the legislation legalizing CBD into law, the ATC issued an emergency series of regulations.
Set to expire in October, the emergency regulations were issued to kickstart the permitting process, with a final set of regulations to be issued in late fall.
Per the emergency rules, the agency is requiring server training as well as permits for both retailers and wholesalers. Moreover, those wanting to sell at special events, like festivals, are capped at 12 events per year and must purchase a $100 permit for each appearance.
Reception from local CBD companies regarding the new rules is mixed. Those unhappy with them are concerned they could restrict the entire industry in Louisiana and stymie its growth. Warner agrees the industry should be regulated, but believes the ATC may have gone overboard with the new rules. Regardless, she’s willing to follow them.
“Whatever hoops they put out, I’ll jump through them because I believe CBD should be out there,” Warner says. “I’m going to tell my mom to take it when I have my products out.”
Heather Carter, co-founder of Mountain Pure CBD—a Baton Rouge-based CBD company that’s sold products since 2017—believes the ATC regulations extend farther than what legislators had in mind when crafting the new law in the spring.
“They are intent on treating this agricultural commodity as if it’s alcohol,” she says, “and in their fumbling and overstep they are going to run many retailers and manufacturers out of Louisiana.”
ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard says the regulations are fair and necessary, noting some CBD retailers make unsubstantiated claims about their products.
Though she says CBD products can “be good for the business market and a good alternative option for Louisiana citizens looking for more holistic remedies,” she contends accurate labeling is a serious concern.
For example, Marine-Lombard says, ATC has found products sold in Louisiana that were labeled as being THC-free, but actually contained the psychoactive compound. The agency has also found gummies promoted as a CBD product that instead included a hallucinogenic synthetic drug. The labels said the products were fine, but Marine-Lombard warns people shouldn’t trust labels until they’re approved by the Louisiana Department of Health.
“Would you want your grandmother taking something she believes will help her pain based on a label with absolutely no proof?” asks Marine-Lombard.