The hemp business in Minnesota is about to boom

The products you'll find at 419 Hemp Kiosk contain cannabis -- without all the fun of that THC.

The products you'll find at 419 Hemp Kiosk contain cannabis -- without all the fun of that THC. 419 Hemp Kiosk

Justin Trott is used to the confused faces of customers walking into his shop. The West Lake Street store, 419 Hemp Kiosk, boasts 20 different strains of cannabis for sale.

Trott usually has to walk them through the same series of inquiries: Is this legal? Why is this legal? What’s the difference between this stuff and the illegal stuff?

There’s a reason it’s confusing. Up until about five years ago, Trott says, people weren’t as interested in picking apart what they were smoking and analyzing its components. It was all weed, and it was all illegal. But that’s changing.

First things first: Hemp is not marijuana. It is a sister species to marijuana, with the key difference being much less THC -- the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis -- or none at all.

In March, Trott -- as much to his own surprise as anyone else’s -- got the okay from the state of Minnesota to sell hemp products in both his LynLake store and a store in St. Cloud. His company remains among the few in the area licensed as growers and processors of hemp CBD buds, which his customers can legally smoke without getting messed up on THC.

Which brings us to our (and probably your) next question: Why would I buy this if it doesn’t get me high?

“A lot of people don’t actually want to be intoxicated,” Trott says. They come to his store and buy cannabis flowers so they can enjoy the relaxing ritual of smoking -- something that smells and tastes “like the real thing,” but won’t compromise them. Plenty of other customers -- especially his older clientele -- use CBD tonics and tinctures derived from the hemp as a pain reliever, anxiety reducer, or a treatment for drug withdrawal.

Here’s the thing, though -- Trott’s not a doctor, and he’s not pretending to be. He makes no claims that hemp or CBD can cure what ails you. In fact, there isn’t enough long-term data to prove it cures anything. There is some evidence that it could be helpful for some of these health problems, but little more than that.

All Trott can do is speak from his own experience. In 2010, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and given seven to 10 years to live. He describes himself now as “much healthier than he was then,” and he has only been treating himself with cannabis. To this day, he’s not sure if it was actually the cannabis that helped him, but he does believe in its potential to do good.

Currently, hemp exists in a liminal space-- somewhere to the left of legitimacy, just on the edge of legality, and right in the center of public interest. It’s having a particular moment in Minnesota as grassroots organizations and legislators bat the word “legalization” back and forth with regard to its psychoactive cousin.

Ever since December’s farm bill legalized industrial hemp as a crop plant, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has been drowning in phone calls from interested farmers. That means the hemp market, which is already jam-packed with largely untested regulations, complicated definitions, scant public knowledge, and vague applications (you can find it in everything from bath bombs to dog treats), is going to get a lot busier.

That can be risky when a product has no public databases showing which businesses and brands are reputable and effective.

“People need to be consciously aware of who they’re buying CBD products from,” he says. “Sometimes it’s [hard] to know where to turn.”

He thinks Minnesotan organizers’ efforts to plan ahead and determine how to regulate marijuana -- the THC stuff -- in advance of its actual legalization are “smart.” If recreational cannabis gets the nod, things only get more complicated from there.