Cannabis is booming in Topeka, but these products won’t get you high

The market for hemp-based wellness products, an industry expected to be worth billions of dollars in a few years, is burgeoning in Topeka.

Business has been so strong locally for CBD American Shaman, a nationwide franchise selling cannabidiol products that opened its first Topeka location last year, that owner Jason Todack expanded by opening a second store in North Topeka. In early August, Free State Oil, a CBD distributor, opened a brick-and-mortar store in Topeka and on Saturday opened a second location in downtown Holton. Meanwhile, Sacred Leaf expanded from Lawrence to the capital city with a location that opened two weeks ago.

“We laugh about it because we never thought in a million years we’d be featured in Forbes,” Todack said of American Shaman becoming one of the nation’s largest CBD oil stores. “It’s been an amazing journey. We’re going to keep growing.”

It is no wonder Todack is confident in the industry. The Hemp Business Journal, which monitors trends in the industry, projects a $2.1 billion market in hemp-related sales by 2020 — a 700 percent increase over 2016. Meanwhile, MarketWatch reported nearly 40 percent growth in the CBD oil industry between 2017 and 2021.

American Shaman’s growth has been rapid. Since opening the first store at 2607 S.W. 21st St. last year, Todack said, the franchise has grown to more than 150 stores nationwide, with 45 more coming on the market soon.

“We started out with a goal of having 400 by the end of the year. I think we’ll make it,” he said.

The company plans to have 2,000 franchised stores in two years. On a smaller scale, Free State Oils owner Joy Neely said her second store in Holton is one of several planned for Kansas.

What is legal?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of hundreds of compounds found in the cannabis plant. Some CBD oils can contain low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. A change in Kansas state law this past May allows for the sale of CBD oil without THC.

The products come in a variety of forms, from candy and other edibles to droppers of oil, body cream and shampoos.

Lawmakers tweaked the state’s marijuana laws after Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay and Johnson County District Attorney Stephan Howe asked the attorney general’s office in January to clarify where CBD fell in state law. At the time, there were a rising number of citizens and retail establishments that believed CBD with 0.3 percent or lower THC content was legal, Kagay said.

“I am satisfied that our legislature has now drawn clear lines as to what is legal and what is illegal,” he said. “My office will continue enforcing our state laws that clearly prohibit all products containing any amount of THC.”

To avoid confusion, Neely said, CBD products should be clearly marked that they contain no THC. Her Colorado-sourced hemp products are tested four times, she said, to ensure they lack the “let’s get high” compound and toxins that may get picked up from the soil.

Sacred Leaf’s products, also from Colorado, are seed-to-sale, said Topeka store owner Anthony Massengill, meaning he can track products directly to the source.

While Todack said competition is to be expected, he does worry that the industry’s rapid growth will quickly lead to intense regulation. Too many are jumping on the CBD bandwagon without understanding what they are selling, he said.

“There’s going to be a rude awakening for people who don’t know where their hemp is coming from,” he said. “We have to be the standard. I’m worried there will be major clamp-down because some shops aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.”

Todack and Neely lobbied the Legislature to exclude CBD from the marijuana code. Educating lawmakers about non-THC CBD was pivotal, Todack said.

“You don’t have to get high to get help,” he said.

Getting help

That education continues in stores, Todack said.

The bulk of American Shaman’s interaction with customers consists of answering questions, he said. New franchisees must complete a training program, and the company also offers seminars with doctors and hemp researchers.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is education,” he said.

Massengill, who expanded Sacred Leaf’s Lawrence store to a Topeka location in late August, said he spends 20 to 30 minutes with each new customer.

“We want to make sure it works for everyone before they leave the store,” he said.

CBD proponents said the compound can help with a wide variety of conditions, from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to pain, insomnia and memory. However, the FDA has yet to approve any marijuana-based product as treatment for those conditions.

Neely and Todack both entered the CBD oil business after using similar products.

Polyps in Todack’s sinus grew to tumors that prevented him from breathing. Years of treatment and surgery were ineffective and expensive, but CBD appeared to help.

“It got to the point where I had to find something else,” he said, adding that his girlfriend, who suffered from seizures, saw “near immediate relief” from American Shaman oil.

Neely said her nephew smoked marijuana to help with ADHD, but when he came to live with her, she put a stop to it.

“I wasn’t going to have that,” she said. “We had to find an alternative.”

When Todack saw the quick relief American Shaman oil offered his girlfriend, he knew the company needed to be franchised, he said. Vince Sanders founded American Shaman as a wholesaler of CBD oil in Kansas City, Mo.

“If I can prove one store works, we can have hundreds of stores,” Todack said. “Every town should have a Shaman.”

As it turned out, Todack wasn’t alone in that idea.

Neely is part of a pilot program to grow hemp in Kansas. A coalition of growers will produce more than 26,000 acres of Kansas hemp for Free State Oils following approval from the governor and a series of test crops.

“We’ll have Kansas hemp for Kansas products,” she said.

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