The Green Mile: Local greenhouse cashes in on CBD

A worker at Abele’s Greenhouse & Garden Center putting a stem of a hemp plant through a machine to separate the stem from the usable bud. Wed. Nov. 13. (Rebecca Roberts/Photo Editor)
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By Michael Piwowarski, editor-in-chief.

SAGINAW – Abele Greenhouse and Garden Center in Saginaw is currently closed to the public for the season. However, employees inside are still hard at work processing their first ever cannabis crop.

But this is not “pot.” They are harvesting hemp – a cannabis subspecies – for CBD (cannabidiol).

CBD, a chemical compound found in cannabis plants, does not get people high. Recent scientific evidence shows that CBD can be effectively used for pain relief, anxiety relief and other medical uses, making CBD-based products increasingly popular.

For instance, a study published in the Journal for Scientific Medicine shows that CBD reduced chronic inflammation and pain in mice and rats, suggesting that it can help humans too.

In fact, hemp that is grown and harvested for CBD is quite different from recreational marijuana, the latter of which has a much higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical compound that causes the sensation of getting “high.”

“Legally, [hemp] has to have less than 0.3% THC,” says Matt Bouvy, co-owner of Abele Greenhouse. “[…] There’s a lot of different kinds of hemp in the world. There’s hemp for fiber; that might be coming along later but right now, the most popular varieties are for CBD oil.”

After farming hemp for CBD was legalized in the 2018 US Farm Bill, Abele Greenhouse applied for a business license in May. They have been looking for additional sources of income, as they are a seasonal business. Until 2006, they operated year-round, but stopped selling seasonal products like Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies due to declining sales.

“By 2006, most of our flower shops had gone out of business or gotten very small; the volume wasn’t there anymore,” says Bouvy. “I think it’s just a changing demographic. People buy their flowers from […] Kroger’s, or Meijer’s, or Walmart just out of convenience. You know, 30 years ago, those stores didn’t really have a floral department.”

This year, Abele’s decided to branch out into the booming CBD industry. The Detroit Free Press reported in March 29 that the market is projected to exceed $22 billion by 2022. Other businesses have already cashed in on this opportunity.

For example, video rental chain Family Video started selling CBD oils earlier this year, in an effort to bring customers back into their stores. As they are one of the last surviving video rental chains in the country, the CBD market could be their lifeline.

To that end, Abele’s is (potentially) working toward offering a new type of flower: the kind that you smoke.

“We were hoping to have some smokable flower; we may have, I don’t know yet,” says Bouvy. “In order to sell a smokable flower that people could actually smoke, you have to pass a lot of tests. So we’re in the process of getting it tested right now, to make sure that it passes the test for mold, pesticide, residue, make sure the THC is below 0.3.”

Again, that low THC level is key. Smokable CBD flower is instead used for therapeutic and medical benefits, and does not contain enough THC to get people intoxicated.

As Abele’s is just entering the CBD business for the first time, however, Bouvy is unsure what they are going to do with their harvest when they have it ready. He speculates that, aside from flower, people will most likely want an oil.

“This would be like wholesale sales,” says Bouvy. “Not to the public but to other businesses that are going to further process it or further refine it, or make another product out of it.”

The plants that were grown this year have been harvested and are now being hang dried and bucked.

“Bucking is the act of taking the buds off of the stems,” says Bouvy. “That’s what we’re doing now. And then we’re putting them into storage.”

Once the process is finished and all of the product is in storage, Abele’s will receive a certificate of analysis from an independent lab and decide what to do with their hemp afterwards.

Recreational marijuana is ruled out as a possibility for Abele Greenhouse. They are based in Buena Vista Township, which opted out of allowing recreational marijuana facilities, but opted in for medical marijuana. Bouvy also points out that selling recreational marijuana is much more expensive.

“All we needed to grow hemp was a $100 grower license from the state of Michigan,” says Bouvy. “And then, in order to harvest your crop, you need a $1,350 processor license. […] It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a marijuana license.”

So next time you walk into Abele’s when they open spring 2020, you can expect to find the usual variety of seeds, potted plants and garden accessories.

But don’t get your hopes up for dope.

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