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Business Owners Overcome Cannabis Challenges

CBD sales is a growing industry in the Southern Tier, but as hemp continues to become more normalized, various challenges still stand in the way of businesses like the newly opened Releaf Market in Jamestown. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

Businesses selling cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, are expanding throughout the Southern Tier, bringing with it economic opportunity and potential health benefits for consumers.

As the debate regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana in New York continues, CBD — a safe, legal oil collected from the cannabis plant — has become a popular product of choice for people interested in relaxing or treating bodily pain, headaches and mental issues such as anxiety.

Multiple outlets in Jamestown have begun to sell CBD to customers, and The Releaf Market most recently has specialized in selling other hemp products too and in addition to educating consumers about their products and the history of cannabis use that has led to this point.

“What’s crazy (is) it’s been taken away from people,” co-owner Nancy Morrison said.

While the fight for legalizing recreational marijuana is most often publicized since only 10 states and Washington, D.C. have fully legalized all cannabis use, there is still a way to go in allowing medicinal marijuana in the U.S. In 2019, 17 states still have not legalized the use of medicinal marijuana, something that has helped Releaf Market co-owner Kerry Trammel’s daughter, Ariel Stimson, overcome childhood ovarian cancer years ago.

This was all the more daring since Trammel lived in North Carolina, a state that has still not legalized medicinal marijuana, when she was treating her daughter with cannabis. Five years cancer-free, the Stimson family are able to look back on the tumultuous time in the national spotlight during which father Todd Stimson was imprisoned for 25 months for running a hemp shop in Fletcher, N.C., and growing what police found to be too much of the marijuana plant.

Stimson said his trial was delayed because his daughter had no hair due to chemotherapy at the time of the raid and that prosecutors didn’t want to draw more controversy to an already publicized movement and trial. A public figure and advocate for the hemp and medical marijuana movements, Stimson’s trial rallied many supporters, some of whom were shocked when he was given more than two years of prison time.

It gave him a chance to come up with a smarter plan of advocacy and a business plan.

After he was released from the Foothills Correctional Institute in Morganton, N.C., he returned to Asheville, N.C., and submitted a resolution to get medicinal marijuana legal in the city. It passed unanimously.

While marijuana is criminalized and not legal on any level in North Carolina, the state ironically has a popular hemp market, in which there are stores in most large towns and cities. That oversaturated market inspired Morrison and the Stimson family to start a business where he grew up: Jamestown.

Even with healthy friends and family and a newly opened business, the business partners still face their share of obstacles. Due to a lack of hemp awareness and what they cited as negative stigmas against cannabis, banks wouldn’t let Morrison start an account for The Releaf Market.

“They didn’t realize it was a legal business,” Morrison said.

Somewhat paradoxically, as cannabis products are often associated with teenagers and young adults, she also said that many Releaf Market customers have been people 50 years and older.

Even creating these products provides an inconvenience for a New York hemp business. Morrison and Trammel, who make many of the tinctures, lotions and edible products themselves, must travel back to North Carolina once per month in order to create their products. The 2018 Farm Bill allows previously established pilot programs for cultivating hemp to persist, which explains why the products can be made in some states, but the creation would not legally be allowed in New York unless new legislation is passed.

Despite the hard work and health-based advocacy, the Releaf Market business partners face criticisms. One woman told Morrison she would go to hell for selling the “devil’s lettuce,” Morrison said.

She’s optimistic, though. She said when she gets to explain what hemp actually is to open-minded individuals that they usually come around to the idea of the natural products being far removed from recreational marijuana.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Morrison said.

In their retail work, Morrison, Trammel and Stimson still want to advocate for the progression of marijuana legalization. They would like to see medicinal marijuana stop being treated as a schedule one drug so that doctors can prescribe it instead of just recommend it be taken. Once it can be prescribed in the state, health insurance plans could start covering the cost of medicinal marijuana for cancer and seizure patients.

“I think education is the key,” Morrison summarized. “Once someone understands something, they don’t fear it anymore.”

Follow Eric Zavinski at twitter.com/EZavinski

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