Cannabidiol, known more commonly as CBD, is a hot product these days, and two recently-opened stores in the Fargo area aim to push its wellness benefits front and center.
CBD of Fargo, A HempDropz Company, 3985 56th St. S., opened Nov. 23, and Kota Organics, 2511 Kirsten Lane, quickly followed suit on Dec. 9.
But, their owners know they’re fighting the stigma swirling around CBD: that’s it’s medical marijuana, or even street-grade pot, requiring at best a prescription and at worst shady business practices.
It’s a common confusion. All contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive drug in marijuana — but purveyors of CBD claim the non-psychoactive byproduct of the hemp plant is not only safe, but good for relief from a host of ailments ranging from anxiety and stress to chronic body pain.
And, as they’re quick to point out, due to the low levels of THC, it’s perfectly legal.
A common goal
“We want to educate and explain to people what CBD actually is,” said Matthew Stengl, owner of CBD of Fargo, “and what it can do for you in terms of your health. And that is a big staple on why we brought it up to this area.”
Stengl owns a total of three CBD stores, with branches in Moorhead (opened May 4), East Grand Forks (opened June 12), and now Fargo. He said he prides himself on having been the first stand-alone storefront to market and sell CBD products as „wellness first.”
“We’re trying to create a positive, educational vibe in the community,” he said.
The approach includes products — from gummy bears and hard candies, tinctures, creams and salves, to top-selling water soluble CBD, and vape pens — that have been third-party batch tested, as well as instructions on how to properly use them.
The batch testing, he said, is important. A quick scan of every product’s QR code can break down where it was bottled and tested, what it contains, and the day it expires.
“We educate and want to give that information to our clients,” Stengl said, “so they know what they’re putting into their bodies.”
Vivian Fellman, owner of Kota Organics, said the name of her business means „happy” in Japanese. Ryan Stotts / The Forum
At Kota Organics, owner Vivian Fellman said she uses the same method because it’s important for her clients to know she’s offering products from trustworthy sources.
Before opening, Fellman considered opening an online-only boutique, but quickly decided against it.
“I do believe this will help people,” Fellman said. “That’s why I wanted to have a storefront. I think it’s important to have this representation.”
When clients come in they can try samples, she said, and it also gives her an opportunity to engage them about what they’re buying. And why.
“I’m passionate about wellness,” she said. “I wanted to be the educator and the advocate for CBD.”
The legal issue
While both stores offer products made from organic, U.S.-grown hemp, primarily supplied from the West Coast, it’s the potency of the THC levels — not more than 0.3% — that makes them legal. None are approved by the federal Food and Drug administration.
Fellman said when she finally decided to move forward with her sole proprietorship, she relied on the passage of the federal 2018 Farm Bill, which outlines the THC levels required to grow and sell industrialized hemp.
That isn’t to say she didn’t try to contact local authorities, including both county and state officials.
“I called all the offices,” Fellman said. “None of them could give me a yea or a nay. It’s a gray area.”
Kota Organics, located at 2511 Kirsten Lane, opened its doors Dec. 9. The boutique-style store specializes in CBD products. Ryan Stotts / The Forum
Stengl said they had no issues with legal authorities when they decided to move into North Dakota, including health department inspectors.
“Most people want the stuff coming in,” Stengl said. “The difference is how it’s being distributed, and how it’s being presented, and that’s where the stigma aspect of this product kind of really falls in.”
Both stores said, prior to opening, they reached out to the Fargo Police Department. Officials wouldn’t confirm speaking to anyone specifically regarding the sale of CBD products.
They did release an advisory statement to the press in June.
“The short answer to whether CBD products are legal to possess in North Dakota is YES, as long as the CBD is extracted from legally produced hemp,” according to the advisory.
Concern comes from the lack of scientific research into claims of its effectiveness.
“Taking this into consideration, citizens are advised to still do their due diligence in selecting the types of products they use, should they decide to utilize CBD products, as there is always the possibility of differences in quality depending on the manufacturer, as there is with all consumer goods,” the advisory said.
Fargo police officials said they refer all inquiries to the Cass County state’s attorney’s office, whom they consulted before issuing the advisory.
There have been some calls fielded by their Fargo office, said Assistant State’s Attorney Kara Schmitz Olson, either by people interested in starting a CBD-based business, or selling CBD items as secondary inventory.
Her response as always been the same.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Schmitz Olson said, “because there are federal laws that are implicated.”
She refers everyone to the North Dakota Attorney General’s web page, which contains a resource guide on CBD-related issues, and which directs readers to the federal Food and Drug Administration regulations regarding cannabis-derived products.
“FDA continues to be concerned at the proliferation of products asserting to contain CBD that are marketed for therapeutic or medical uses although they have not been approved by the FDA,” according to the regulations.
“We are aware that state and local authorities are fielding numerous questions about the legality of CBD,” the regulations said. “There is ongoing communication with state and local officials to answer questions about requirements under the FD&C Act, to better understand the landscape at the state level, and to otherwise engage with state/local regulatory partners.”
After carefully reviewing the information, Schmitz Olson said, she suggests individuals seek out private legal counsel.
CBD of Fargo, A HempDropz Company, 3985 56th St. S., opened its Fargo location Nov. 23. Ryan Stotts / The Forum
A personal connection
If customers have a personal health connection for seeking out CBD products, the same can be said for those who sell them.
In Fellman’s case, she was born and raised in China. She became a U.S. resident in May.
She turned to CBD herself after experiencing anxiety and panic attacks when her youngest son was born with Pulmonary Atresia, a heart disease where the pulmonary valve doesn’t form properly.
“Cannabis has been used for thousands of years in China,” Fellman said.
It doesn’t carry the same stigma as it does in the U.S., although there have been discussions about the difference between marijuana and hemp.
“But,” she said, “overall, we also have, if not thousands, then hundreds of herbal medicines we can access. So, hemp and CBD are not really a big ‘it’ thing in China.”
But, in the U.S., she said, it’s different. And, that’s why CBD is being thrown into the spotlight.
Fellman is hoping her „wellness boutique” will make customers comfortable, especially mothers like herself who may not want to visit a vape shop.
“I feel like there’s definitely a more natural way to help them,” she said, “rather than taking medication.”
Carly Petrovic, General Manager at CBD of Fargo, said no question is a dumb question when it comes to CBD products. Ryan Stotts / The Forum
At CBD of Fargo, General Manager Carly Petrovic said she’s always had a passion for this kind of work.
“I was drawn in,” said Petrovic, who works closely with clients coming into the store, answering any questions in detail. “I was hooked. I love everything about this.”
Petrovic said 85% of their customer demographic is more than 55-years-old. She’s also worked with parents who have kids with autism and ADHD. Some customers are using CBD in ways even she didn’t know about.
„I had a guy in here the other day,” she said, „we had a two-hour conversation about how he’s been able to completely kick his heroin addiction because CBD helps him crave the withdrawal symptoms and get past them.”
Petrovic, 24, a CBD user who has had rheumatoid arthritis since the age of 8, said the store is open to everybody.
“There’s lots of people and lots of pain,” she said.
North Dakota Attorney General’s resource guide: https://attorneygeneral.nd.gov/criminal-justice-resources/guides-manuals-general-forms
FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD): https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd#farmbill