This story is a part one of a two-part series on CBD and hemp underwritten by J.C. Younger. The Growler maintained editorial control over the content.
We wanted to be the Summit Brewing Company of the cannabis industry in Minnesota,” says Josh Maslowski. Maslowski is the owner of Stigma Hemp, a Minnesota-based company that sells tinctures, topicals, and edibles that harness cannabidiol (CBD), a hemp-derived product that has been widely used to treat anxiety, seizures, chronic pain, and other ailments.
And while the medical properties of CBD are not yet fully understood, numerous reputable institutions have cited its promise for a variety of applications. At the same time, a Wild West atmosphere around the CBD industry has led to a marketplace that is rife with poorly labeled and sometimes downright fraudulent products.
For Maslowski, the appeal of marketing CBD stems from its potential to heal, and that means marketing products that encourage repeat and long-time customers. In the same way that craft breweries like Summit and Surly shaped the Minnesota brewing scene by pushing innovative and reliable beers, Maslowski hopes to develop CBD product lines and a reputation that puts Stigma at the top of the pile amongst its competitors.
“We looked at those [breweries] and the parallels between how they exist in their space with how the cannabis industry will probably look like and that’s the path that we chose,” says Maslowski. “Which means craft quality, ingredients […] everything we do, we do very carefully. We carefully curate the ingredients and partnerships in this new industry.”
The shop got its start with the 2018 Farm Bill, which overhauled regulations on hemp-related products. The bill opened the door (partially, and ambiguously) to commercial CBD production. Maslowski, who had experience with making and selling products to electronics retailers, saw a financial opportunity to get into a market with immense potential and little formal definition. His interest was galvanized by health struggles among his family and friends, and the potential good CBD could do by alleviating symptoms.
Stigma’s challenge—and the challenge of any CBD retailer in Minnesota—is balancing the need to connect customers with products and the need to provide a safe, effective, and reliable service in a marketplace that is still finding its regulatory footing.
“When I started Stigma, I knew that I had to bring product that was grown appropriately—i.e. organic methods—and was tested appropriately so that when I put it on my shelf or web store, I know exactly what’s inside the bottle,” says Maslowski. “That’s another comparison to other retailers who were not doing that due diligence. And that saves money and time by not doing that, by not doing it what we would call the right way.”
The right way, for Maslowski, means working with groups like the Minnesota Hemp Association (MHA) to create standards for testing and labeling CBD products, and to avoid retailing any products with troubling reputations. From the get-go, Stigma has avoided carrying CBD vape pens and oil over concerns about the danger of vaping.
“I was scared about that—there was a lot of liability and a lot of issues with vaping at the time,” says Maslowski. “It could have been a healthy percentage of our revenue in our first year or two, but instead we focused on other things.”
Those other priorities include emphasizing partnerships with breweries. Stigma teamed up with Modist Brewing by extracting the hop oil from the brewery’s popular hazy IPA, Dreamyard, and formulating a product using that oil and Minnesota-grown hemp CBD oil.
Dream Oil is derived from biomass grown in a greenhouse in Rogers, Minnesota, and then moved to Cannon Falls to be processed by a licensed hemp processor. The hemp processor extracts the oil, which is then refined, tested, and compounded into Dream Oil.
Tinctures like Dream Oil also need a carrier oil so the CBD can bind with a protein in order to be effective. “In the case of Dream Oil we use a local Minnesota hemp seed oil,” says Maslowski. “We round it off with a little bit of local honey. Every bit of that formulation was sourced organically or locally. We do the formulation, we do testing, and we send the bottles of finished goods off to then get tested for how many […] we’re saying there’s 500mg to the bottle—we make sure we’re hitting the mark, then we run a couple hundred units at a time and run package labels in accordance with the Minnesota CBD law, and the labels go on the bottle and then they go out the door. That’s seed to sale right there.”
The company is also working with Duluth Coffee Company on a coffee-infused tincture.
With the onset of COVID-19 in March, Stigma had to shut down its retail showroom in the North Loop, but Maslowski is still sunny about the future of his business and his industry.
“Our online sales have been up, so we’re actually ahead of where we were before,” says Maslowski. “I think that’s a testament to CBD. I started out in the video game industry, and we used to say video games and alcohol were recession-proof and I’ll definitely add CBD to that list.”
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