Mary’s Medicinals CEO talks about hemp and federally legal cannabis patches
What: A line of hemp-based medicinal cannabis products, including transdermal patches, gels and supplements.
Find it: Available at Native Roots and Medical Marijuana of the Rockies in Frisco, Organix and Backcountry Cannabis Company in Breckenridge, and High Country Healing in Silverthorne.
Nicole Smith wants the world to rethink hemp.
As chief executive of Mary’s Medicinals, a Colorado-based company known for transdermal cannabis patches made from hemp, Smith is fighting an uphill battle — and winning. Legal weed is constantly in the spotlight, but hemp is quietly earning approval at the federal level. Last year, President Barack Obama signed the latest iteration of the farm bill, which included an amendment to put hemp on a different plane than its more psychoactive cousin. Almost overnight, the low-THC form of cannabis sativa was no longer a federally illegal drug.
Smith’s company has grown rapidly since the law was signed, expanding beyond Colorado and Washington to medical dispensaries in Northern California. Its marquee product, transdermal cannabis patches, can be used to treat everything from epilepsy in grade-schoolers to Alzheimer’s in elderly patients. The most enticing perk: With minimal levels of THC, the products have no psychoactive effects. This is meant to be medicine, Smith says, pure and simple.
Shortly before the launch of the company’s nutritional brand — a completely THC-free line of supplements that can be shipped anywhere in the country come this fall — Smith and company sales director Trevor Gallup spoke with the Summit Daily News to debunk myths about hemp and explain why the industry will continue to fight an uphill battle.
Summit Daily: Hemp is a misunderstood plant, especially in the era of decriminalized marijuana. Give me the crash course: How does hemp compare to its flashier cousin?
Nicole Smith: Basically, hemp and your traditional marijuana are the same plant — it’s all cannabis sativa. The only difference is the potency, where hemp is kept to under 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, and that’s all regulated through Colorado’s Industrial Hemp Program. But I think this is the biggest misconception: It’s not about us growing or using an inferior product. It’s about us growing the highest quality we can and putting it under a different classification, putting it to a different use. What we do is grow these high-quality strains, whether they’re Charlotte’s Web or any of those other names people recognize, and fine-tune them for medicinal and nutritional use.
SD: How do the medicinal benefits vary between hemp and marijuana? In Colorado, it seems like lucrative retail dispensaries are slowly replacing medical centers — is there a market for what you make?
NS: That’s an interesting thought. Mary’s products — 70 percent of what we produce — are non-psychoactive, and that will go up with the introduction of our nutritional line. I don’t know that medical is going away — it’s that more people are going for the convenience of a retail store.
Think of the red-card program as similar to a driver’s license: If you had to reapply once a year, take a physical, go through an entire, lengthy process just to renew, people would be in an uproar. It’s the same with medical patients. It’s much easier to go to a retail store and get essentially the same product without jumping through hoops.
But I would say medical use, and the benefits of cannabis in general, are continuing to flourish. I know I’m continually amazed by the number of people who use product for a vast array of conditions. Sometimes I get emails or calls and have to Google the condition someone is treating because I’ve never even heard of it before (laughs).
SD: And Mary’s Medicinals is growing at the same rapid rate. Why do you think the company has done so well in the past year or two?
NS: The basis we launched the company on was twofold. One was to have accurately dosed, clean products that are discreet to use. The second was that we also wanted them to be familiar to patients, people who use our products as treatment. I was amazed when I first entered the industry to see so many people who wanted to use cannabis in medicinal form, but their only delivery method was a gummy bear or a brownie. So what we did is take cannabis and introduce it to modern-day pharmacology with our patches and gels. These aren’t candies — they’re medicinal products that look and feel like medicinal products, and the dosing is reliable like a medicinal product.
SD: In Summit County, where thousands of residents work at a resort in winter, joint and muscle pain are prevalent. How can hemp help ski bums continue doing what they love, even when it hurts?
Trevor Gallup: We do a tremendous amount of business in that area with our patches, gel pens and compounds. We get lots of good feedback for joint pain and relief. Obviously, smoking isn’t allowed on the federal land, but clients can use our gels and compounds before heading on the mountain without jeopardizing their safety.
NS: That’s specifically related to hemp. The CBD, whether in a nutritional or medicinal product, is the same high-quality CBD with anti-inflammatory qualities. And if they want to take it home they can because what we make is federally legal. Again, I can’t tell you the number of people who call me and email me and just want to know more about our product, but haven’t had access to it before because it couldn’t go beyond state lines. As a federally legal product now, if it’s bought here, you can take it home.
SD: Let’s talk about the dosing dilemma. Marijuana edibles have come under fire recently because a portion of users don’t realize the products are dosed as (and often intended to be) medicine. How do hemp products skirt that issue?
NS: The dosing is the same in all of our products. The only difference is that the medicinal products can contain up to 10 percent THC, whereas the products we produce on the nutritional side don’t contain any THC.
That was one of the areas we discovered when we came into the business, is that testing is lackluster at the best. I think we’re one of the only — if not the only — producer in the state to have a chief science officer. The testing is something we do in house because we feel that’s the only way to guarantee the claims we make. Before we even had the money to spend on it, we had testing equipment in house to make sure we could back up our claims.
SD: Colorado is one of just two states in the U.S. with a production hemp farm. What barriers does the hemp industry face in other states?
NS: Oh, I think they’ll encounter quite a few. The precedent has been set allowing for the importation of hemp, but there hasn’t been any laws or statutes defined for domestic hemp. Without question, we’re operating in a gray area and we know that. It really comes to American pride, American grown, just producing high quality products here. If we’re able to use inferior product produced elsewhere, we should be able to use what’s grown right here, in this state.
Another factor is to see if the MED (Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division) will step in to regulate the hemp industry. They said they won’t, but at some point there will be a call for some kind of regulatory body beyond the (Colorado) Department of Agriculture. I also think you’ll see some heavy taxation come into play over the next 12 months — that’s just the way it’s been evolving.
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