While other entrepreneurs were investing in marijuana after Colorado legalized it in 2012, the founders of 4 Corners Cannabis, a La Plata County company, keyed in on its lower-profile cousin, hemp. The early investment has paid off, as the company has expanded its national distribution.
Brothers Justin and Brian Jasiewicz had raised medical marijuana for their personal use and were pleased with the effects of strains high in cannabidiol, commonly called CBD. The strains high in CBD helped relieve Brian Jasiewicz’s back pain and Justin Jasiewicz’s anxiety, said Jimmy Haberer, a co-owner of the company.
“They couldn’t believe how well it worked for them,” he said.
CBD can also be used to improve sleep, reduce inflammation and treat seizures, among other uses in humans and pets. The medically beneficial product can be derived from marijuana and hemp, the latter a far less regulated plant.
While CBD oil has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, strong anecdotal evidence supports its use.
One of the highest profile cases of the success of CBD was Charlotte Figi, a Colorado child who suffered from frequent grand mal seizures from her severe form of epilepsy.
Her parents were able to successfully treat her condition using oil high in CBD. Charlotte’s story gained national acclaim in 2013 on CNN and helped launch the boom of the CBD industry, Haberer said.
The hemp-derived CBD market was a $390 million market in 2018. That number is expected to jump to $1.3 billion by 2022, according to New Frontier Data, a cannabis statistics company.
The Jasiewicz brothers launched 4 Corners Cannabis while the industry was still young in 2013, just ahead of the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill that legalized hemp nationally for research purposes.
Hemp was appealing to the brothers because it is far less regulated than marijuana. For example, hemp can be grown outside and it can be sold across state lines.
The brothers moved to Bayfield to launch their company so they would have the space to start growing hemp and experimenting with what would grow best, said Haberer, who joined the company to build greenhouses.
In the beginning, the company’s CBD extraction and bottling work was done in the Jasiewiczs’ kitchen.
Now, 4 Corners Cannabis products are sold by 20 companies nationally, including chiropractic offices, whole food stores and medical marijuana dispensaries, Haberer said.
The company initially focused on products for humans, but has since expanded to include products for pets, which are now the company’s top-selling products, he said.
The company’s facilities have also expanded to include a 4,000-square-foot genetics lab in Bayfield where strains of hemp are cultivated, 5 acres of hemp near Oxford, and a 4,600 square-foot combined production and retail space in Bodo Industrial Park. The retail space is home to Cannabuddies, a separate company launched in February by Haberer and Justin Jasiewicz to help bolster awareness about 4 Corners Cannabis in town, said Jack Courtney, a spokesman for the company.
4 Corners Cannabis is unique as a fully integrated company that grows its own hemp and produces its own oil, he said
“From the second it starts growing leaves to the point it goes in that bottle, we are touching it,” Courtney said.
As the industry has grown, many CBD oil companies are relying on outside farms and that has led to problems with contamination from products, such as pesticide, he said.
“The farms may or may not be doing the testing that they should be,” Haberer said.
New state regulations could help protect consumers from some contaminates, and it’s possible the state may require companies to test each batch of CBD oil to keep them more accountable, he said.
In Colorado, CBD oil producers must ensure their product contains 0.3% or less THC, said Jeff Lawrence, director of the Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But the state does not have specific rules governing heavy metals or pesticides in the product. Rules could be developed over the next year if the state determines they are needed through the Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan process, he said.
The process is intended to help grow the industry in Colorado, he said.
Under current state rules, consumers should ensure the products they are buying have been tested by a third party, Haberer said.
“There are a lot of bad actors in the industry now that are just trying to make a quick buck,” he said.
Federal regulations regarding hemp may also be shifting following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that declassified hemp as a controlled substance and tasked the FDA with regulating its use.
The FDA has put together a working group to explore questions such as: “How much CBD is safe to consume in a day?” and “How will it interact with other drugs the person might be taking?” according to a written statement by Norman E. Sharpless, acting commissioner of the Food and Drugs.
If the FDA classified CBD oil as a dietary supplement or a food product, it could draw big corporations into the CBD industry and potentially push out smaller companies and degrade the quality, Haberer said.
“The fear is that these big corporations are going to grow (hemp) on such a massive scale that the quality is going to go down to the point where it’s not going to be nearly as beneficial,” he said.
But Haberer said he is hopeful the CBD industry may mirror the beer industry, with room for craft companies, such as 4 Corner Cannabis, that make a specialized product, he said.