By Bill Sutley
Medical marijuana may be on the distant horizon for the Arkadelphia area, but a Clark County entrepreneur has quietly developed a growing business in CBD oil and CBD-related products, taking advantage of President Trump’s legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, which also won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last June to be sold as a pharmaceutical drug, Epidiolex, for treatment of two rare, pediatric seizure disorders. When CBD is derived from hemp, it still has the potential to help with pain and a wide range of health concerns, but it won’t get users “high,” making it legal to use everywhere and unable to trouble users subject to job-related drug testing. Marijuana also produces CBD, but its main ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is responsible for its intoxicating effects and, experts say, its medical usefulness.
“We started contemplating and testing out CBD in maybe 2014, 2015,” said Belinda Gates, who lives on an 80-acre farm in Delight and works part-time in Arkadelphia.
“We were doing some research, seeing what it could be. I think when medical marijuana came in, it kind of gives you an idea to do a little more.”
Arkansas’s first medical marijuana dispensaries recently opened in Hot Springs, selling about 13 pounds within the first few days. Former state Sen. Percy Malone, an Arkadelphia-based pharmacist who’s enjoyed financial success with his statewide AllCare Pharmacy chain, joined forces with two partners to get a state medical marijuana license to open what’s called the Arkadelphia Dispensary, which will actually be in Caddo Valley at an address now occupied only by a former produce stand across from the Cracker Barrel. In an email exchange this week, Malone said there was nothing new to report on when the Arkadelphia Dispensary would open.
Meanwhile, Gates has had her website, huny-b.com, up and running for 90 days and is now taking online orders, including some from Arkadelphia regulars who she’s known to deliver to when possible, saving them shipping costs. She’s also spent hundreds of hours perfecting her “recipes,” which often combine CBD with essential oils such as arnica, lavender, cottonwood bud and dozens more.
“We use a lot of essential oils,” Gates said. “They’re anti-viral and anti-microbial. They have a lot of capabilities beyond CBD. But when you put the CBD in there, it’s makes just for a wonderful product. I don’t know anyone else who does that.”
Her products range in price from a $12.99 Serenity Bath Bomb, infused with 50 mg of CBD, to a 1-ounce bottle of Sativa Delight that’s packed with 2,500 mg of CBD, costs $129 and comes in peppermint, cinnamon and unflavored options. Most clients take it sublingually — just a few drops under the tongue.
But the products that are still her best-sellers are the ones she developed first: liniment, rubs and salves with CBD content that ranges from 250 mg to 500 mg. They’re also significant because their composition demands that beeswax be used in their manufacturing, helping Gates come up with the name of the business, Huny-B. And no, she doesn’t mind being called the Queen Bee.
One of her commitments to quality is to make sure her products are packed with 10-15 percent more CBD than advertised. And she even goes to the trouble of paying an independent Colorado lab to confirm that for the customer. She said she’s seen too many fly-by-night CBD sales operations that fail to deliver the amount of CBD promised.
“We know they’re going to run high because we know about human error and mechanical error,” she said. “Your scales might not be right. We want our product to be what we say it is. We know what you expect CBD to do. You expect consistency.”
She’s enthusiastic about what she’s seen CBD do, but she’s understated too because of strict federal rules about how she can promote her products. Advertising is out, thanks to the FDA.
“The government limits us on what we can say about CBD,” Gates said. “We don’t want to say it cures cancer or anything like that.”
For that reason, Gates has filled her website with links to academic studies supporting the benefits of CBD, including many funded by the federal government. The most debated medical claim is that it suppresses pain.
Gates sees the pain-relief results up close and personal in her husband, Jason, who suffers from severe back pain and the remnants of a once-broken shoulder, as well as her boss, Arkadelphia attorney Clint Mathis, who also suffers from back issues and diabetes.
“They both swear by it and take it morning, noon and night,” she said. “If you’re always taking pain pills, you’re not enjoying life. You’re always zonked out.”
She first got interested in CBD as the mother of twins, both autistic, who were subject to anxiety and emotional meltdowns. She says CBD has had a calming effect on her sons, now 19. Her son, Jon, who has the most significant deficits, will soon enroll in a residential program at the Arkansas Career Training Institute in Hot Springs. There, she expects him to develop rudimentary skills related to inventory management, shipping and receiving that can translate into him having a role in the Huny-B operation later.
Eventually she would like to build her business to the point where she can afford to convert a chicken house on her property into a manufacturing operation, hiring other employees with special needs and others in the Delight community.
For now, though, Gates is happy with the 24 products she’s developed and her efforts to consistently produce stock to have enough supply on hand. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have dreams, like maybe developing a burn-relief cream. But that can wait.
“We’re blessed,” she says. “We’re really blessed.”