Lawrence businesswoman trying to tap into emerging market for hemp oil products

photo by: Contributed photos

Lawrence businesswoman Joy Neely, left, is distributing a full line of CBD products under the brand name Free State Oils.

TOPEKA – A local businesswoman is trying to branch out into something that is, in Kansas, a relatively new kind of wholesale trade market, but she says she’s having trouble with one thing: convincing potential customers that it’s legal.

Joy Neely, who is perhaps best known for being a realtor and owner of Happy Home Hunters, recently launched a new venture as a wholesale distributor of cannabidiol products, or CBD, a substance more commonly known as hemp oil.

It’s a product that many people argue has useful medical purposes, especially for people with seizure disorders, anxiety, arthritis and other kinds of chronic joint pain. But the legality of it in Kansas has been a matter of some debate and confusion for a number of years.

photo by: Contributed photo

Joy Neely

“I’ve got sales guys going in to different store owners, and they keep running into the same thing, ‘Is it legal?’ And so we’re having to explain the law to them,” Neely said in a phone interview. “Which is fine. What it’s about is education, even down to explaining what hemp is.”

In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress redefined hemp, under federal law, as being distinct from its close relative, marijuana, and it authorized state departments of agriculture and universities to conduct research and pilot programs to study how to cultivate it and use it for commercial purposes.

Kansas, however, was slow to adopt such a plan. In fact, as recently as January, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a formal opinion saying “it is unlawful (under state law) to possess or sell products or substances containing any amount of cannabidiol.”

He also said it was unlawful to possess or sell any products containing even trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that makes people high.

But the Kansas Legislature this year put an end to the debate by passing two bills, both of which contain provisions modeled on the 2014 farm bill: Senate Bill 282, which legalizes the sale and use of CBD products; and Senate Bill 263, which creates a program to research the use of industrial hemp.

Neely said she became interested in the uses of CBD about two years ago, when her 15-year-old nephew, who had ADHD, came to live with her. She said that although she never gave her nephew any CBD products, despite his asking for them, it did prompt her to start doing more research.

She said her interest only grew as a result of one of her other pursuits, working with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, using horses as part of a technique called equine therapy.

“CBD, there’s lots of money in it,” she said. “And so instead of us having to go after federal and state grants, with the CBD business, I’ll be able to fund these organizations and not have to worry about closing our doors next month waiting on a grant from the government.”

photo by: Contributed photo

Free State Oils products

Neely’s company, Haniel Concepts, is offering a full line of CBD products under the brand name Free State Oils, which includes tinctures, balms, soft gels, gum drops, vape refills — even dog food and some kinds of livestock feed. She’s now shopping those products around to CBD stores, natural food grocers, pet stores and any other retail outlet that offers CBD products.

Her company isn’t the first distributor of CBD products in the Lawrence market. In August, Terry Burdett helped found Sacred Leaf, which is both a retail outlet and wholesale distributor of CBD products.

When it opened, Sacred Leaf, 1901 Massachusetts St., was affiliated with a national chain, American Shaman, but Burdett said that relationship ended earlier this year and the store and other retailers are now selling products under the Sacred Leaf label.

Both Neely and Burdett said they sell only products with no trace amounts of THC, which is still illegal in Kansas.

But Burdett said in an interview that when the Kansas attorney general’s legal opinion was released in January a number of CBD stores around Kansas closed their doors temporarily, until the legal issues were resolved.

“They basically just voluntarily closed because they didn’t want to mess with the hassle,” he said. “They were worried that they might get arrested or raided or something like that. So they shut down their store voluntarily just to keep any trouble from happening.”

Sacred Leaf, however, remained open, and in recent months, Burdett said, business has been booming.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of us switching brands, or if it’s tied to the fact that now the law has come into play and people are hearing about it,” he said. “At least in Lawrence, I would say we’ve had an uptick of 50-75 percent more business (since April). We had a set number of sales we were doing, and we’re now almost doubling that on a daily basis.”

Still, the question on many people’s minds is whether the legalization of hemp production and CBD sales is just the first step toward legalizing marijuana in Kansas.

Burdett, however, said that may not matter.

“I really honestly think that even if medical marijuana goes legal nationwide, federally or even in the states, I still think there are going to be people that want to get the help without getting the high,” he said. “I still think that CBD is going to be around.”


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