Last week’s episode of The Outlaw Report podcast was a conversation with Barbara Biddle, the owner of District Hemp Botanicals, located in the DuPont Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C. Biddle also owns two other hemp CBD boutiques in Virginia. We discussed the hemp industry in D.C., and how her business has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is a version of that interview which has been edited for length and clarity.
Scott Cecil: I remember coming to the grand opening of one of your locations that’s here in D.C. So how long ago was that?
Barbara Biddle: That must have been late 2019. Very shortly before the pandemic hit us. So yeah, it’s been awhile Scott. But we’re doing good. We’re surviving. I think there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel for all of us Americans. So I’m excited. I’m optimistic now.
SC: Why don’t you tell us about District Hemp and on top of that, how did you get into this line of work? Did you just wake up one day and think, “I really want to share hemp products with the world?” Tell us the story of how you got into this work.
BB: So it started shortly after the birth of my first son Oliver. You know, something that a lot of women go through after giving birth is postpartum depression. And I was feeling it. So I saw what CBD was doing. For my friends. It was brand new at the time—not a lot of people knew about it, you know? So, I gave it a try. And after experiencing this kind of normalcy from CBD, and seeing what it was doing, for my friends for pain and anxiety, I was like, “Wow, you know, I think it’s time to bring this compound to the DMV area.” So I started market testing, I opened up the first store in the DMV area that was all CBD-focused. And it kind of snowballed into three stores and a robust e-commerce site from there.
SC: I don’t want to talk about COVID-19 the whole time today, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about how Covid-19 impacted your business? Were you able to remain open throughout COVID? has business been affected by COVID? Just tell us what that landscape has looked like and how you think COVID is going to continue to impact your business as we move forward.
BB: At the time, Virginia and D.C. actually regulated what they considered essential businesses differently. In Virginia, we were allowed to stay open, we had a cap of 10 customers per store, we were considered essential. In D.C., it was a different story. They went out of their way to actually say that CBD stores were not essential, because there was some ambiguity with allowing cannabis dispensaries to stay open. But their distant cousin, the hemp plant, you know, that was not considered essential at the time. So, we had to shut our doors in D.C., actually, for a little bit. We couldn’t even do curbside at the time. So it was definitely strange having to operate under such different circumstances between the two states. However, business was still going pretty all right. We saw an increase in people seeking help for anxiety and sleeplessness. People are kind of shifting more towards holistic health and plant based medicine. So there, there has been a bit of a boom since COVID hit us, which is interesting. And so during the shutdown, specifically, it did hurt cash flow a little bit to have D.C. completely, not operating. However, that being said, our Virginia stores did carry a lot of weight, and we were able to regain our footing relatively quickly because of the influx of people searching for holistic medicine and plant-based medicine for anxiety and sleeplessness.
SC: I know you employ a lot of people, you’ve got three locations, were you able to, to retain all of your employees throughout the pandemic?
BB: The largest issue was keeping everybody safe that either suffered from an autoimmune issue or had somebody at home that suffered from an autoimmune issue. So it wasn’t so much lack of funds, but more so safety and making sure that they were able to stay home because we had no idea what was happening at the beginning of the pandemic. We had no idea how to properly protect ourselves. It was a huge learning curve for all business owners. And we did lose a couple people out of safety, but most of them returned, which is great. A lot of them are getting vaccinated now.
SC: Can you tell readers where do a lot of the products that you sell in the retail environment come from?
BB: We source all our products domestically, it goes through an extensive testing process between myself and our sales associates—a lot of us use CBD therapeutically. So if it doesn’t work for us, it probably won’t work for our customer base. And given that our refund policy is so lenient, we need our products to work to stay in business. So it goes through a good amount of testing between me and my staff to make sure that the product works. We require third party testing as well, just to kind of prove the cannabinoid content, make sure that the packaging is marketing what the actual product content says. And then we do a small market test on our shelves, just to make sure the people that are buying it are happy with the product before we start investing in heavy amounts of inventory. So it’s a bit of a process, but you know, it helps keep quality control pretty tight.
SC: In terms of product testing. I know there’s third party testing, you mentioned market testing. In terms of the regulatory environment, though, we all know that, under their infinite wisdom, the federal government has decided that hemp cannot contain more than point 3% THC. So is there a federal regulator that just randomly comes around and picks something off your shelf and then goes and tests it to make sure that it’s under that 3% point?
BB: No, we don’t have anybody that really comes in the store to double check. What kind of keeps us in check is fear of the media. So a couple times there have been media hits where people go undercover into different stores and buy the product, get it tested and doesn’t show the right amounts. So we’re scared of that happening to my store, you know, because it’ll impact our public trust. But as far as like a state regulator, no, we have not had that happen. Or come across anything like that thus far in the last three years of business.
SC: Before we started the interview, you mentioned Delta-8 THC. Readers are probably more familiar with Delta-9 THC which is I guess the most famous or most infamous of the cannabinoids that most people have heard of. Delta-9 THC is the one that is most responsible for psychoactive effects from cannabis products. But Delta-8 THC is all the rage in hemp-based products. What is Delta-8 THC? Does it have psychoactive properties? And what are the types of products that we would find it contained within?
BB: So Delta-8 is a THC analogue and it’s very similar to Delta-9 THC. However, it binds to receptors a little differently. So it induces a shorter, less psychoactive effect. We’re seeing a lot of people that are sensitive to paranoia and anxiety kind of shift towards this compound, as opposed to buying, you know, recreational cannabis that has higher amounts of THC. It has been very interesting and we’re seeing a lot of therapeutic benefits from this compound to people who are saying what they’re finding relief from and are finding help inducing appetite. So, we’ve been getting a lot of really awesome feedback about this new compound, things that tend to differ than what one might typically expect. So it’s been really interesting and it’s been a great asset to us. It’s been something that kind of fills the hole where CBD isn’t quite enough for the customer. But Delta-8 seems to be like the perfect sweet spot for a lot of our customer base.
SC: You have a pretty wide selection of products that are for pets, I think cats and dogs, but maybe some other pets as well. What are some of the more popular products that people are buying for their pets?
BB: So we do have a wide array of products for pets and some of the most popular options are definitely the dog treats. We see a lot more people coming in for their dogs than any other animal I’d say. But that hasn’t stopped other people from shopping for the most random animals actually. We’ve had somebody come in for their rescued chicken actually. And she would rub you know, a salve that was actually meant for humans on the chicken’s leg to help with inflammation. So yes, we do see a lot of people coming in for dogs specifically. And it’s for the same reasons humans shop for CBD. You know, we’re seeing a lot of separation anxiety, we’re seeing a lot especially as people kind of stop teleworking and go back to work. We’re also seeing a lot of people just buying products for long car rides and traveling now that that’s starting to pick up again. But it’s a lot of the same reasons that we see humans shop: anxiety, not so much sleeplessness, but a lot of pain.
SC: To wrap it up, are there any common misconceptions, or just questions that you hear from customers all the time, particularly if they’re just not really familiar with hemp or cannabis that you’d like to share with our audience today?
BB: I’d say one of the biggest things that we see in store is the misconception that CBD does not pop-up on drug tests. It’s very important to be transparent and clear with your employer, if you plan on using CBD, therapeutically—for anything, honestly, even a topical. So that’s something to be preemptive about and let our customers know so that they don’t have any surprises that might lead to, you know, termination or a jail sentence perhaps. That is something I like to always bring up.