‘This is not about getting high, but getting healthy’: Makers of hemp-based CBD visit Sundance to serve food and fight the ‘Reefer Madness’ stigma

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) A mocktail, called Shrooms in Fall, is one of the CBD-infused goodies being served at the Wellhaus pop-up lounge this weekend in Park City, during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Park City • The bazaar of corporate-sponsored pop-up lounges dotting Main Street during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival serves up a familiar array of tech companies, beer and liquor makers, and showbiz publications.

This year there’s a new player vying for attention on Main Street: a company that makes cannabidiol, or CBD, a nonpsychoactive derivative of cannabis plants.

The pop-up Wellhaus lounge, sponsored by Charlotte’s Web/Stanley Brothers, offered opening-weekend festivalgoers space to sample and learn about CBD, and a gastropub featuring CBD-infused cocktails and food — including burgers, tacos and chicken wings.

(Sean P. Means | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brothers Joel, left, and Josh Stanley are two of the co-founders of Charlotte's Web/Stanley Brothers, a Colorado maker of CBD products. The company sponsored the Wellhaus pop-up lounge this weekend in Park City during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The lounge, which will stay open through Sunday at 412 Main, is an effort to educate people about the potential health benefits of CBD as pain reliever and epilepsy treatment, as well as helping with stress and sleeplessness.

“This is not about getting high, but getting healthy,” said Josh Stanley, one of seven Stanley brothers who founded the company, based in Boulder, Colo.

The company’s name, Charlotte’s Web, was inspired by Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl who suffered from serious seizures. When Charlotte was 5, her parents first treated her with CBD oil, and the seizures stopped. Her story gained national attention when Sanjay Gupta reported it on CNN in August 2013. Josh Stanley said Charlotte is now 11, and “99.9 percent seizure-free.”

The brothers stress that they make no definitive health claims about CBD because of FDA regulations. But they are supporting research that they hope will back up the stories their customers tell them.

Many people associate hemp, and the CBD extracted from it, with the related marijuana plant. The difference is that hemp, from which CBD is extracted, has less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient that creates the “high” of marijuana.

For years, hemp was listed alongside marijuana as a controlled substance, illegal to grow or own. That changed last November with the passage of the federal farm bill, which took non-THC hemp off the controlled-substances list.

Even before the hemp legalization, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana and 33 states have legalized medical uses of marijuana. Utah voters approved Proposition 2 in November, and Utah legislators quickly rewrote a more tightly controlled plan a month later.

In 2014, Utah lawmakers legalized CBD oil for medical use, but required patients to register with the Utah Department of Health to be allowed to possess it. Utah was the first state to legalize CBD without legalizing other forms of cannabis.

CBD is slowly gaining traction with Utah consumers. For example, Atticus Coffee & Teahouse in Park City sells CBD teas and tinctures. The industry is growing nationwide; according to the news website Vox, CBD was a $350 million industry in 2018, and experts estimate it could top $1 billion by 2020.

The company is also fighting the stigma on the screen. Charlotte’s Web is supporting the dysfunctional-family comedy “Before You Know It,” which is debuting in Sundance’s U.S. Dramatic competition.

The purported health benefits of CBD are nothing new, Josh Stanley said. In a TED talk he delivered in 2017, Stanley showed a headline from the Salt Lake Telegram, the now-defunct evening edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, from 1949: “Marijuana Leaf Plays Epilepsy Cure Role.”

The Stanleys said anecdotal evidence of CBD’s benefits is reducing the stigma, but that “Reefer Madness” reputation won’t go away overnight. “Ninety-five years of fear-based propaganda takes a while to unpack,” Josh Stanley said.