When Chris Potratz first thought about opening his cannabidiol (CBD) store, Greenlight Natural CBD, around a year ago, he wanted his business model based around a small town.
“I looked at this in cities like Omaha, Lincoln, there’s already a pretty good base of CBD stores,” he said. “I thought, ‘Develop a model where I could go to a small town.’ I wanted to create a location that would be where my mom and dad would shop.”
Blair, Potratz thought, would be a great location for the store since the city has many veterans — he himself is an Air Force veteran — and residents with disabilities who could benefit from CBD products. According to an article published by the Harvard Health Blog, “Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t,” there’s evidence suggesting CBD can help epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia and different types of chronic pain.
But when Potratz was told by representatives of the Washington County attorney’s and sheriff’s offices that CBD is still considered a controlled substance in the county, later affirmed through Blair city and police officials, he decided to open in the Omaha Benson area instead.
“The reason I did not open is because the county told me it was still a controlled substance. (The city) just confirmed my concerns that the county was against it,” Potratz said. “It was my choice to not go there. Nobody forced me not to. I just made a choice based on a calculated risk assessment … It’s a bummer for Blair, they could’ve had a cool CBD shop.”
Potratz felt he could open his shop in Omaha without fear of legal ramifications because Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he won’t file charges against business owners selling CBD products. The difference in the substance’s legal status between Douglas and Washington counties comes after Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act into law in May.
The new law allows for the cultivation and processing of hemp and opens new commercial markets for farmers and businesses through the sale of hemp products. It also provides licensing and regulation for the crop. Hemp crops must contain less than 0.3 percent THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in cannabis. CBD is derived from the hemp plant.
Late last year, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson re-issued a memorandum, after issuing a similar one in September 2017, that CBD is a controlled substance and therefore illegal in the state. He has yet to offer a new memo or guiding comments on CBD since the the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act was signed into law.
Following the 2017 memo from Peterson, the Washington County Attorney’s Office charged the owner and an employee of a Herman convenience store for selling CBD products. The charges have been dismissed by a judge three times.
When the case was dismissed for the third time this summer, the Washington County Attorney’s Office filed an appeal. Chief Deputy Erik Petersen cited multiple reasons for the basis of the appeal.
Two of those reasons are that “the issue of CBD legality is a novel issue in Nebraska and the state is requesting a legal analysis that would provide direction in future cases” and “the district court failed to indicate whether the state failed to prove an essential element of whether the court believes CBD is now legal pursuant to the Nebraska Hemp Farming Act.”
In a prepared statement following the third dismissal of the case, County Attorney Scott Vander Schaaf said his office would continue to abide by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson’s opinion that CBDs are illegal in Nebraska.
“This will the policy until such time as this office provided further guidance by the courts or further action by the Nebraska Legislature,” Vander Schaaf said.
Phil Green, Blair’s assistant city administrator, said he spoke with Potratz about his CBD business, discussing what Vander Schaff was doing in regards to the substance.
“I informed him that the county attorney’s actions were separate from Blair, but that it might be wise to wait until the issue was clear in Washington County,” Green said.
Potratz said Blair city officials, Blair police officials and other Blair business owners he spoke to were supportive of his want to open a business. But, he said, he came away from conversations with representatives from the county attorney and sheriff’s office with the impression he would face legal challenges were he to open in Blair.
“I don’t have anything against the Vander Schaaf people,” he said. “It’s not like I’m mad at them or anything. In his legal opinion, this is still a controlled substance. I think he’s wrong, but it’s not an issue I’m going to hold any grudge against him.”
As far as Potratz is concerned, the confusion comes from the state’s top attorney.
“They are just looking to Doug Peterson,” he said. “They are just doing their due diligence and operating on his information.”
Should clarification affirming the legality of CBD come from the Nebraska attorney general, Potratz said he would still consider opening a shop in Blair if another person hasn’t opened one already. He said he doesn’t think Blair is big enough to support two stores.
In the meantime, Potratz said that he’s focused on making his Benson store profitable. He said it’s unfortunate that people in Blair who could benefit from CBD can’t get the product and that the county and Blair are losing tax dollars which would come from CBD sales.
“I’m trying to open a professional, legal, above board business,” he said. “There’s people in (Blair) who could benefit from it and they’re not able to get it, and it’s due to the confusion.”
Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis contributed to this article.