A new hemp store has opened in Charlotte, N.C., and there is some controversy over whether it gets the bragging rights for “first dispensary” in the state’s largest city.

Deciding who gets the bragging rights depends on how you define “open for business” and “cannabis dispensary.”

In late October, Charlotte CBD finally opened in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. For more than six months, alternative Queen City media outlets have reported on the company’s opening status and the store’s signage has been on display for about as long.

However, in September, The Hemp Source, headquartered in Wendell, N.C., opened a Charlotte location on South Blvd.

When Charlotte CBD made the news again being touted as Charlotte’s the “first” CBD store Hemp Source customers complained via social media.

But even they weren’t considering all of their options.

Mitty’s CBD Café is located inside Vigor, a health center that offers CBD massage. It opened its doors for business in Southend before both Charlotte CBD and The Hemp Source opened theirs.

There’s Queen Hemp Company, too, which has sold its hemp products at Mitty’s CBD Cafe since before both Charlotte CBD and The Hemp Source opened.

And, if you look just outside of the I-485 loop, in Concord, there’s also Keep it Hemple whose owners say they got their start in the spring of 2017 and incorporated the company in October of that year, which state records confirm.

Which is the first Charlotte-based CBD dispensary? We think it depends how you define “dispensary” and “open for business.”

Does selling online count as being “open for business”?

“We started selling CBD products online and out of our homes in January,” says Mike Sims, one of three co-owners of Charlotte CBD, adding, “Once we obtained our store we were selling by appointment.”

As the publisher of an online-only media organization, I have to say “yes.” Opening a business online does count as being “open for business.”

My side gig is also an online business that is registered with the state and county. I must charge sales tax on items, file quarterly taxes and have a federal tax number. Even though it’s a tiny business, only online and not getting enough attention from it’s lone worker bee (me) … because #CannabisNews … it’s as legit as this news site and any other business.

I sell small-batch organic catnip at Dope-Kitty.com and a few crocheted items at SwankKitty.com in addition to running Carolina Cannabis News.

Further, in what feels like a past life, I used to manage collegiate bookstores. So I can attest that having a brick and mortar store people can walk into and interact with your staff and touch your products deserves a lot of credit. It’s incredibly expensive, for one thing, plus business owners must jump through many more hoops when they’re online and have a storefront; there’s the on-site staff, parking considerations and a number of other things physical stores must deal with that online-only businesses don’t.

Sims says his company’s opening to the general public was delayed by construction and accompanying bureaucratic issues. They did rehab an old building, a headache unto itself.

However, Armany Richardson-Peterson, who co-owns The Hemp Source with her husband Charles Peterson, explained that when she and her staff visited Charlotte and saw there were no dispensaries open they made it their priority to open one. And they did.

“Once we saw that there was nothing open in Charlotte that’s when we stepped on the gas,” she says.

In addition to their flagship store in Wendell, there are also Hemp Source stores in Greensboro, Wilson and Wingate, N.C., and in Mount Ranier, Md., too. And their Durham store is opening Dec. 9. The couple are also organizers of the Carolina Hemp Festival which held its first event in August.

Because their Charlotte location opened to the public as a regular retail store before Charlotte CBD did they, too, have a good claim for first CBD dispensary in Charlotte.

What qualifies as a dispensary?

I lived in Seattle when recreational marijuana became available to the public in Washington state and have clue about what does and doesn’t qualify as a dispensary when it comes to public opinion.

Keep It Hemple is a seed-to-store company — meaning they grow the hemp and create their own products which they sell themselves — that sells online, but they don’t have a traditional store any ‘ol body can visit during business hours. Therefore it’s not what consumers consider a dispensary, in my opinion.

You can visit Mitty’s CBD Café and Vigor and buy all sorts of hemp and CBD products, including hemp flower, but I’m not going to call them a dispensary, either, not in the way shoppers in fully legal states categorize a dispensary.

Queen Hemp Company is also seed-to-store. Their products are available online and at several retail locations in Charlotte, including Atherton Market where you can meet the owner of the company, Nicole Burnette, most Saturdays. We’re not calling them a dispensary either.

Narrowed down to which companies are dispensaries with “bud bars” and “bud tenders” and all of the other trappings of a dispensary you’d find in California or Colorado, minus the THC of course, we’re down to Charlotte CBD and The Hemp Source.

Full disclosure: Mitty’s CBD is the only company mentioned in this article that is a sponsor of Carolina Cannabis News. We asked them to comment on this article and they didn’t, which, frankly, fits their mode of operation – they’re not the type to care who much about who is first, more that CBD is available at all … not to put words in their mouths; that’s my observation.

Updated: After posting this editorial I noticed this image on Mitty’s website, so I stand corrected: Their claim to fame is being Charlotte’s First CBD Cafe.

Technically, Charlotte CBD’s physical location was open to the public by appointment only before The Hemp Source. Does that make them first?

Or does The Hemp Source’s being fully open to the public first make them the owners of the bragging rights?

It’s a tough choice, and I see validity in the arguments from both sides. With all candor, I’m hesitant to make the call because the answer depends on your perspective.

Does it matter who’s first?

Back in 2015-2016 when liquor distilleries were coming online in Charlotte, there was a similar debate over which distillery was first.

Like Charlotte CBD, Dragon Moonshine ran into all sorts of red tape with the government. They, too, were dealing with an old building in the NoDa neighborhood. They, too, thought they were first in line to open after decades of prohibition. Though, unlike the hemp stores, they don’t have the option of selling their products online.

After looking into the issue, as journalists do, I discovered which distillery was indeed first to open. But you know what? A few years later it doesn’t matter; no one is talking about it, not even the distillery owners.

You can read my Charlotte magazine article, “The Return of Hooch in North Carolina,” here.

During her Carolina Cannabis News podcast interview, Burnette, of Queen Hemp Company, told us she is the first licensed hemp farmer in Charlotte. Incidentally, she wasn’t the first licensed hemp farmer in the state – that distinction goes to Founder’s Hemp, which is led by Bob Crumley. And she wasn’t the first female hemp farmer, either. That honor goes to Franny Tacy in Asheville. Burnette still has her Charlotte-centric bragging rights, though.

It’s safe to say there are a whole lot of firsts happening in North Carolina’s hemp industry, which isn’t even three years old yet — and more people in the industry have reason to brag than not. It’s a fun problem, but, to be blunt, no one cares as much as the people doing the bragging.

For that matter, I’m sure no one gives a damn which stores I consider to be average-gal recognizable as a dispensary. Still, I predict, in a few years, when we all look back to the early days of the Carolina hemp industry, this isn’t the stuff that’s going to matter most.

Being first can matter a lot

Acknowledging the white-lady-in-the-suburbs lens that I see the world through, it’s very possible that I don’t understand how important some firsts are to others.

Case in point: The Hemp Source has another claim to fame that, I think, is a lot more important than one of their many stores being the first to open in Charlotte. In fact, it’s so important I’ve asked Richardson-Peterson to be a guest on our podcast in early 2019 so she can fill you in on the details in her own words.

On the national stage, The Hemp Source is considered the first African American-owned seed-to-store hemp business in the United States. This is significant.

Dr. Chanda Macias, a dispensary owner in Washington D.C. and the chair of Women Grow, held events in Raleigh and Charlotte earlier this year. During her talks she pointed out that less than one percent of the cannabis industry is made up of people of color.

The fact that North Carolina is home to the first Black-owned vertically integrated hemp store in the country is indeed something to brag about. And it’s a fact being recognized this month at MJBizCon in Las Vegas where Peterson is a guest speaker.

BY Rhiannon Fionn

BY Rhiannon Fionn

Editor & Publisher

Rhiannon Fionn is an award-winning journalist based in Charlotte, N.C.

[Header image: James Willamor]