Photo: Dan Haar /Hearst Connecticut Media
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MILFORD â€” No customers were inside when I walked into a shop on the Boston Post Road marked â€śYour CBD Storeâ€ť that looked, from the outside, like any other retail outlet.
Itâ€™s the first Connecticut location for a Florida-based company, Sunflora, selling the white-hot product under the SunMed brand with nearly 400 stores open or about to open in 31 states, all in the last couple of years.
The Milford owners hope to open five stores this year along the Connecticut shoreline including one in Fairfield and one in East Lyme â€” and more after that. Other owners have â€śYour CBD Storeâ€ť locations about to open in Deep River, Glastonbury and Southington.
Thatâ€™s a highly ambitious plan for independent store owners, even as franchises, or affiliates, as these stores are designated because, so far, they havenâ€™t paid franchise fees.
I figured despite the popularity of CBD, the â€śitâ€ť elixir these days â€” the non-psychoactive ingredient in hemp, a cousin of marijuana â€” Connecticut would adopt the trend slowly, as usual.
In fact, co-owner Clayton Percy says, business has been brisk from the start, even before the June 26 grand opening. Quickly after I arrived at midday on a Wednesday, the place started to fill up. Percy and Briana Dias, an employee who knows a lot about CBD, fielded buyers curious shoppers.
â€śMy husband has really bad arthritis,â€ť Kathy Augustitus, a nurse from Seymour, who has tried a few things already, such as turmeric. â€śWhat can CBD do?â€ť
The answer from Percy wasnâ€™t simple. CBD is in clinical tests all over the nation, including studies in Connecticut, but without approval yet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sellers canâ€™t make medical claims.
It would be a miracle compound if it had even one-tenth of the positive health effects people ascribe to it, from relieving general pain to shrinking malignant tumors. Your CBD Store favors education and a healing environment rather than a hard sell.
The place looks less like a high-volume, mall-style retailer and more like a holistic education center, which in some ways it is â€” with a couch, the companyâ€™s lotus flower mandala icon on the walls, plants, printed testimonials and artful displays. It has a room set up for classes and consultations.
Talking with Augustitus, Percy explains the â€śendocannabinoid systemâ€ť in which nerve-based receptors throughout the body react to CBD and related compounds.
Across the room at the same moment, Dias delivers a similar narrative to another customer. â€śItâ€™s just keeping your body functioning as it should,â€ť she says. â€śEvery body has its own endocannabinoid rhythm.â€ť
â€śTinctures are one of our best sellers,â€ť Percy tells a customer, as Dias talks about serving amounts. Theyâ€™re careful not to say the words â€śdoseâ€ť or â€śdosageâ€ť because this isnâ€™t an approved drug, just as many doctors who suggest CBD to their patients, or certify patients for marijuana, are careful not to call it a prescription.
Two women, obviously friends, greet each other in the store with hugs. â€śWhat are you getting?â€ť one asks.
â€śIâ€™m getting some oil for my fibromyalgia,â€ť the other responds nonchalantly, as they talk about their kids.
CBD retail lives in a frontier world of exploration. As legalized pot spreads to more states, industrial hemp â€” including CBD manufacture â€” is growing as well. But unlike marijuana, the selling of it is neither limited nor regulated in most states, including Connecticut, now that federal restrictions are lifted.
The result is both a hot trend and a confusing market. Retailers including vape stores, gas station convenience outlets and high-end grocers offer CBD oils, potions, creams, honey, tinctures and all manner of other forms of the stuff, with little or no regulation as to whatâ€™s actually in it.
Percy, a young father whose wife, Jillian, comes in with their toddler during my visit (she works there part-time) was with a marketing company before he opened the Your CBD Store in Milford, where the family lives.
Milford, home of two of the stateâ€™s 12 medicinal marijuana dispensaries, is fast becoming a CBD mecca as well. Not far away, at the Connecticut Post Mall, another CBD store â€” marked simply â€śCBD Oilâ€ť â€” opened recently. Itâ€™s more of a traditional store, with loaded shelves.
That mall store has a large sign labeled â€śhealth benefits of CBD oil,â€ť listing â€śfight cancer,â€ť â€śanxiety relief,â€ť anti-seizure,â€ť â€śdiabetes prevention,â€ť â€śanti-acneâ€ť and five other claims.
Does it really do all that? No one should make the claims. An entire sub-industry of hopeful researchers is rising up to cement CBDâ€™s place in the medical panoply. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, is also the subject of extensive research even as states add to the list of conditions eligible for pot treatment â€” five new conditions this month in Connecticut, for example.
Percy must constantly work to keep CBD apart from cannabis in his customersâ€™ minds: â€śYou donâ€™t need a medical card to come in. Anything that we carry here has no THC in it,â€ť I hear him say over the phone.
While the scientific jury is out, an aging generation of baby-boomers is willing to spend a the bucks â€” maybe $100 a month for daily use, more or less, depending on a lot of factors. Young people come in as well, such as the Yale medical school student who had researched the SunMed brand and drove to the Milford store to buy products in hope of better sleep and more effective studying.
For Your CBD Store, the selling point is a natural extraction method using carbon dioxide rather than solvents; a nationwide brand based on products from farms Sunflora owns; batch-by-batch testing by independent labs, as we see with retail marijuana; and plenty of hand-holding in the stores, a big plus for the over-55 crowd.
Augustitus, the nurse from Seymour, leaves without a purchase for her husband, saying, â€śIâ€™m going to talk to him today before I buy it.â€ť
Thatâ€™s fine with Percy. On Friday, a dentist who had recommended the product for patients came in for some himself. Itâ€™s all part of the launch of the high end of an industry and no one can say exactly where it will be in a few years.
â€śOur business model is unmatched because weâ€™re creating a space for education first,â€ť he said on Friday. â€śAs long as we do it the right way and we treat our customers well, like any other business weâ€™ll be around a long time.â€ť