The week before Thanksgiving, Brian Bullman drove from Asheville to Marietta, Ga., to oversee the opening of Carolina Hemp Co.’s 13th retail location. “The concept of a hemp general store was to provide a level of comfort for customers who may not feel comfortable going into a CBD dispensary,” the company’s co-founder explains. “General store sounds familiar and friendly and is not intimidating.”
But newcomers to the vast array of CBD products now crowding the shelves in brick-and-mortar establishments and filling countless pages of online platforms may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available just since 2018, when Carolina Hemp and Franny’s Farmacy — the first two CBD-dedicated retail stores in Asheville — opened their doors.
Carolina Hemp, says Bullman, was actually founded in 2014 as a distributor of a hemp-infused energy drink made elsewhere; its first retail outlet, in Woodfin, opened in 2016. The following year, the business began moving into growing and production under the auspices of North Carolina’s industrial hemp pilot program. Its first in-house product, a whole-spectrum hemp extract, was introduced in March 2018. The West Asheville store, which also serves as the company’s headquarters, opened later that year.
The initial shift into retail sales came out of necessity, Bullman says with a laugh. “We had so many people randomly showing up at our warehouse that we had to modify our space to accept customers.”
Franny Tacy believes her degree in forestry, master’s in education, experience with a startup company and 12 years in pharmaceutical sales were all steps leading to her current role as founder/owner of Franny’s Farmacy, though she didn’t envision that when she bought uncultivated land in Leicester back in 2012. “I wanted to leave pharmaceuticals and I had always wanted a farm,” she recalls. “It was not with the idea of turning it into a business, but that’s how it rolled.”
In 2017, says Tacy, she became North Carolina’s first female hemp farmer in over 75 years, though that initial crop was geared more toward food and fiber. After collaborating with researchers at N.C. State University’s Mountain Crop Improvement Lab and the N.C. Department of Agriculture’s Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, however, she quickly pivoted to planting and growing varieties more suitable for CBD production. That, in turn, led to the opening of the first Franny’s Farmacy dispensary on Merrimon Avenue. “It was so successful that, in two months, it funded our second store in Hendersonville, and we now have eight stores in four states,” she reports.
Planting a seed
Many local CBD outlets tout the retail equivalent of area eateries’ farm-to-table philosophy.
Meanwhile, some local businesses’ rapid growth has been fueled, in part, by offering franchises. All of Tacy’s stores, for example, share an aesthetic that she describes as light, clean and modern, and each has “a big-ass mural of the first CBD hemp grove on the farm, to connect back to our motto of ‘Seed to shelf, hemp and health.’”
Asheville Craft Cannabis, which launched on Thanksgiving Day in 2018, operates out of Smith Mill Works, a sprawling greenhouse compound in West Asheville that was once the state’s largest grower of Easter lilies and poinsettia. Craft Cannabis is a true seed-to-shelf enterprise, says co-owner Taig Rehmel; Mill Works owner Michael Klatt is a partner in the business. “Every single step happens on our property. We have a real focus on sustainability and were the first Demeter-certified biodynamic hemp product in North America, which is more rigorous than organic certification. We are really proud of that.” The nonprofit Demeter verifies that the food or product has been produced using methods pioneered by Rudolf Steiner a century ago.
Asheville Craft Cannabis, notes Rehmel, makes about 32 different items, which are sold on its website and through other retail outlets such as Asheville Hemp Farms, The Asheville Shop and Mother Earth Food.
Too many choices
But finding CBD locally is only step one. Equally important is deciding what to buy, and knowledgeable staff members are key to helping customers — particularly first-timers — determine which CBD product best matches their needs and lifestyle.
There are three umbrella categories: smokables, sublingual oils or tinctures, and edibles. Each produces different effects. Indica-based products are sedating and calming; sativa, on the other hand, is energizing. “The indica strain of cannabis has a body-relaxing effect, and if you smoke it, you’ll be chilling on the couch,” says Bullman. “The sativa is inducive of more cerebral thought and activity, and pretty quick you’ll figure out how to save the world, pressure-wash the house, mow the yard and build something in the shop. There’s a very distinct difference between the two.” CBD or hemp oil is also incorporated into items as diverse as chocolates, salves, lotions, candles and even pet products.
Franny’s Farmacy dispensaries are staffed by “budtenders” who, Tacy explains, will start with general questions: Why are you here? What is your experience with CBD products? When do you need to use them? What are you comfortable with? The popularity of smokables, she notes, has led the business to create in-store bud vape bars where folks can try different varieties.
Customers, says Rehmel, should consider whether they’re comfortable smoking or would prefer topicals or ingestibles. “Oils have a much more holistic effect on the body: They light up more of the receptor system, last longer and get users more toward the point of saturation,” he says. “Smokables are quicker, with more acute results but don’t last as long.”
Because edibles such as gummies must go through the digestive system, notes Tacy, it takes longer for the effects to kick in, but they remain in the system the longest. They’re popular across the board, and many parents she knows dispense CBD gummies to their kids. The Asheville City Schools, where Tacy formerly taught, was one of the first public school districts in the country to allow CBD on its list of nonrestricted medications, she says.
When people visit a Carolina Hemp Co. store, they’re offered a sample of oil to hold under the tongue for about 30 seconds. “Within about 15 minutes they begin to experience a psychological response,” says Bullman. “We always go for the sublingual oil first because it’s the highest impact for the lowest price, is absorbed readily and is effective in a whole-body-nutrition kind of way.”
Jason Ward, who with wife Amy Ward and partners Jill and Robert Earwood opened Trinity Pharms Hemp Co. — the first CBD dispensary in Black Mountain — in 2019, offers some additional consumer tips. “Be sure to shop legitimate businesses doing things the right way,” he advises. “Ask for the COAs (certificates of analysis) and commit to some trial and error: You may not find the right one your first time. Try different strengths and find at what dose you notice desired benefits.” Or, as Tacy puts it, “Start low and go slow. You can always do a little more.”
For her part, Tacy maintains that CBD is a healthy Rx for these anxiety-riddled and physical-contact-prohibited times. “The sensation you get with CBD makes you feel like you’re getting a hug. This society has a pill for every ill, but CBD is part of plant medicine and lets us take our health into our own hands.” As such, she continues, it’s “a gateway into our own healing.”