With hemp now legal under federal law, more stores selling cannabidiol — or CBD — are popping up across the Quad-City region and eastern Iowa.
Last month, President Donald Trump signed the new Farm Bill into law, which reclassified hemp as an agricultural product, rather than a controlled substance. Hemp can be grown as a fiber or be harvested for CBD, which proponents argue has therapeutic properties.
The new classification has paved the way for the commercial growing of hemp and an expansion of the growing CBD industry.
That was welcome news for some Quad-City business owners, such as Becky and Nate Ramker, who opened Your CBD Store in Davenport, at 2824 W. Locust St., this past fall. Now, the franchisees have opened stores in Moline, Iowa City and Clinton, with plans to expand to Cedar Rapids and Bettendorf next.
In opening the Davenport business, the owners argued the CBD products can act as a natural pain reliever and alternative to opioids.
"We've had well over a couple of thousand customers, and we're now starting to get a lot of repeat customers," Becky Ramker said. "And we're getting a lot of referrals from doctors, chiropractors and pharmacists who are sending people in. I've had customers say they were able to get off morphine, get off pain patches or have reduced their prescription medications."
CBD is a compound found in hemp that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the component in marijuana that produces the "high." Advocates claim it can help relieve inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures and other conditions, without the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Skeptics argue research on the effects of CBD is still limited.
Your CBD Store's products are made by the parent company, which was founded in Florida and has dozens of stores across the country. The Davenport store was the first in Iowa. It sells CBD oil, water solubles, edibles, tinctures, creams and pet treats.
As demand grew, Becky Ramker said the family chose to open a store on the Illinois side in November, moving into SouthPark Mall in Moline. A few weeks ago, Your CBD Store opened in Iowa City. The owners hope to open a store in Bettendorf, near Schnucks on Middle Road, in the coming month.
"We've had a lot of customers coming from the Illinois side and also driving from Muscatine and Iowa City, so we're opening stores closer to them," she said.
Becky Ramker said Your CBD Store offers a "clinic or spa-like" atmosphere, different than that of vape shops that have been selling CBD products for years. With most of her customers around the age of 50, she said she is focused on creating a "comfortable, family business."
Maquoketa resident Margaret Zimmerman, who turned to CBD after feeling negative side effects from pain medication following heart surgery, began working at the Davenport CBD shop. A couple of months ago, she set out on her own and opened a Your CBD Store in Clinton, at 1109 N. 2nd St.
"I'm a registered nurse, so people can come in and get educated as far as how CBD works. I can help them choose the best product to find relief," Zimmerman said. "We're doing classes here and workshops. So great things are happening."
Zimmerman said she opened the store at an ideal time in Clinton — months after the city won a $500,000 federal grant to help fight the opioid crisis.
The franchisees are selling over-the-counter CBD in some areas of Iowa that aren't directly served by the state's new medical marijuana dispensaries. Davenport is home to one of the five dispensaries, which opened this winter. Iowa law allows license holders to sell products with a THC content of up to 3 percent.
As the state worked to roll out the medical marijuana program in the past couple of years, the Iowa Department of Public Health argued unregulated CBD was illegal to sell in the state. Only two counties, including Muscatine, chose to take action and rid stores of CBD products.
The affected business owners argued they were legally selling CBD because the 2014 Farm Bill defined "industrial hemp" as any part of the cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent THC.
So far in Davenport, Ramker said she has not faced issues with law enforcement. And the passage of the new Farm Bill reclassifying hemp has given the business owners the confidence to continue to expand. The business owners said they hope to open more stores across the region, plus in border states, in the coming year.