In December, many Western North Carolina farmers, businesses and consumers received a welcome present when the U.S. Congress approved the Farm Bill, which removed hemp and hemp-derived cannabidiol — or CBD — from the Controlled Substances Act. This action immediately translated to a surge in the availability of CBD food and beverage products in Western North Carolina and across the nation.
WNC residents may have noticed a recent uptick in the number of legal CBD dispensaries and observed CBD-infused drinks and foods popping up on menus at local restaurants and bars and on the shelves of area retail shops. Cannabis Business Executive reported in January that “CBD’s domestic market reached $291 million in 2017 and will hit $1.65 billion by 2021.”
But the bright outlook of this burgeoning industry may have darkened slightly this month as North Carolina public health officials joined regulators in several other states in seeking to enforce existing laws. While CBD oil is not in danger of being pulled from shelves, the fate of CBD-infused foods and beverages is a bit murky.
Hemp for all
A Feb. 8 press release from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the intention to send warning letters to the state’s CBD product manufacturers and retailers. “Under federal Food and Drug Administration laws, CBD is considered a drug,” the statement says. “North Carolina state laws mirror federal laws. This means that CBD cannot legally be added to any human food or animal feed that is for sale.”
To be clear, CBD products will not give you the high associated with marijuana as they contain only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component of cannabis. So, you can imbibe to your heart’s content the nonalcoholic CBD drinks at local bars, including The BLOCK Off Biltmore. For its CBD beverage offerings, the downtown vegan bar and event space partners with The NOHM, an Asheville-based elixir company specializing in herbal sodas and lattes that are available with or without CBD.
“CBD tinctures have been part of our nonalcoholic drink selection for almost as long as we’ve been open,” says The BLOCK owner Cam MacQueen. “We are excited to offer plant-based CBD, spirit-free beverages as CBD is reported to help a host of conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasticity and more.”
Beyond offering The NOHM’s herbal elixirs, The BLOCK also carries hemp milk for its coffee, hemp energy drinks and a range of CBD tinctures. In MacQueen’s eyes, this focus on incorporating CBD options into the menu was a smart bet because “the local industry has taken off at lightning speed, and as more and more people are introduced to the health benefits of CBD/hemp extract, we know there is no turning back.”
Providing growth opportunities for farmers is another important goal of the state’s hemp community. Asheville’s Blake Butler, the new executive director of the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association, seeks to make North Carolina the number one hemp producer in the country. “This is a plant that has the power to turn the North Carolina economy into a force for good,” MacQueen says.
MacQueen also expresses excitement that multiple female-owned businesses are popping up in this sector. To encourage more people to get involved in the budding industry, The BLOCK hosts regular hemp educational events as well as HempYEAH!, a monthly, public hemp- and CBD-focused networking and socializing night held every first Wednesday.
Regarding the position of the NCDACS on CBD food and drink products, MacQueen says she plans to stay informed but, for the time being, will continue selling, advocating and promoting hemp extract products. “As of this time, we will keep doing what we are doing until we receive further guidance from Raleigh,” she says.
The Asheville Dispensary, an alcohol-free lounge and retail shop on Haywood Road, also features The NOHM’s elixirs on its large menu of health-focused drinks. Owner James Gallagher describes the business as “a communal space for people to come share their experiences with hemp and other natural tinctures and herbs.”
Community response has encouraged Gallagher to carry a line of espresso drinks, including The NOHM’s Coffeelixirs, which combine espresso with tasty elixirs. Customers can also choose from a selection of morning tonics infused with citrus oils and other vitalizing ingredients. All beverages have hemp extract add-ons available.
Consumers should opt for freshly made CBD drinks and avoid bulk-produced CBD products, says Gallagher, because “there’s speculation as to how long water-soluble CBD remains effective in beverages.” And since the public is still new to CBD, Gallagher encourages people to talk with experts, including Asheville Dispensary staff members, who can answer questions and provide recommendations based on individual goals and needs.
Gallagher says he believes his shop’s practice of serving hemp extract as an optional add-on allows its offerings to fall outside the scope of the concerns.
The NOHM founder Jill TrAshley says she chooses to work in the CBD industry because “hemp has always been a plant ally of mine.” She got her start in the cannabis industry in California as a head processor at a cultivators’ collective, and this experience “has been an advantage and an asset to our ever-growing brand and arsenal of consumables.”
In response to the state’s regulatory crackdown, TrAshley says she plans to update her product labels to replace the term “CBD,” unless it is listed as an extract among her ingredients, with the word “hemp.” She notes that she already includes an FDA disclaimer on her website and labels.
Hemp has also been steadily infiltrating the brewing community. One World Brewing released its Hempin’ Ain’t Easy back in 2015, and it’s now one of the brewery’s top sellers. Co-owner Lisa Schutz says One World developed the ale, which is made with organic, whole toasted hemp seeds, after she was approached by someone looking for a special beer for an Asheville hemp event. “We especially like the nutty, full-bodied mouthfeel the hemp seeds add to the beer,” she says.
One World also collaborated with Blue Ridge Hemp Co. in October to host the inaugural Selectors Cup, a networking opportunity and competition that supports WNC’s expanding hemp community. The 2018 event featured CBD vendors, a CBD dab and flower bar and a number of guest speakers. Schutz hopes the Selectors Cup will become an annual event.
At press time, One World hadn’t received any notices regarding production and sales of Hempin’ Ain’t Easy. But Schutz says that after a recent request to the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission for a new keg size for the ale, she received a letter stating that the ABC is currently not approving any new hemp beers. Fortunately, she says, this new policy does not impact previously approved hemp beers.
Kat Haney, public affairs director of the N.C. ABC Commission, says, “The ABC has established a policy that no product derived from any portion of the cannabis plant will be approved as an additive to alcoholic beverages until we receive clear guidance from either the N.C. Department of Agriculture or the N.C. General Assembly.”
She goes on to point out that the federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 didn’t legalize hemp products in North Carolina. “It simply noted that if a state wanted to have primary regulatory authority over the production of hemp, the state’s governor, agriculture secretary and attorney general would have to submit a plan to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture,” she says. To date, North Carolina has not done so.
The recent NCDACS statement specifies that CBD products can’t make health claims, and failure to comply could result in embargo or seizure of products. But businesses in the local wellness sector have been stocking their boutiques with CBD foods, beverages and beauty items.
At Violet Owl Wellness on Wall Street, patrons can currently buy locally made CBD chocolates, teas, gummies, capsules, medicine balls, gum and breath strips. Violet Owl’s Natalie Fox predicts that CBD will be one of the most popular additions to food in the next few years. “It is in high demand and assimilates very well with the human body,” she says. “I believe there will be a lot of people incorporating it into their everyday life. What better way to incorporate it into your life other than your diet?”
She expresses regret about the potential crackdown, but says her shop will comply with all state and federal requirements. “It’s a shame, because there are highly effective products that are in an edible form,” she says. She notes, however, that “there are plenty of other supplemental options for obtaining hemp oil, CBD and cannabinoids.”