OAKLAND — John Jabar has a vision.
In the large red building off Kennedy Memorial Drive that used to house Guardian Building Products, he is developing a high-end hemp-processing laboratory and retail shop with his wife, Sarah Dexter. Among products such as lotions and gummies, Jabar and Dexter plan to sell coffee infused with the cannabidiol product – CBD oil – that Jabar will make on-site. There will be an outdoor seating area and perhaps even a drive-thru window, permit pending.
“We kind of want to make it like a new kind of brewery,” Jabar said. “If people get real interested, we can take them out back. We can put in windows in (so people can see the process).”
The outfit is on schedule to be operational by early July, Jabar said.
He plans to call the shop The Warehouse, while the laboratory is licensed with the town of Oakland as Mainely Processing. Jabar said he hopes The Warehouse name will help combat the stigma that hemp and CBD are linked to marijuana.
“People still haven’t overcome the perception of CBD (as marijuana-related),” said Jabar, who has dabbled in the medical marijuana industry. “But the building’s going to be very friendly, so my mother or my aunt can go in there and feel very comfortable.”
Though both hemp and marijuana are derived from cannabis, hemp does not get users high and is defined as having 0.3 percent or less of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive component. It has been marketed in balms, tinctures, foods and even dog treats as a natural treatment for physical pain and anxiety. State and local governments as well as financial institutions have struggled with how to treat the crop – and those who touch it – for years. For Jabar, this has resulted in months of delays in getting the business up and running.
But now that he’s cleared the hurdles of Town Council approval, local permitting and finding a bank to help support his “well over $1 million” investment, his focus is fixing the inherited water drainage problems at 826 Kennedy Memorial Drive – and establishing hemp suppliers in central Maine.
Jabar estimated that his business will create up to 70 jobs in Oakland within a year, with positions ranging from overseers of the CBD oil extraction process to baristas and retail specialists. Ten to 15 of those jobs, he said, will be filled in the next month, when the first laboratory and The Warehouse open.
DEMAND FOR CBD
Though plenty of people are unfamiliar with CBD, demand appears to be strong among the handful of shops in Waterville that already sell some type of product infused with the oil.
Flowers Farmacy, a medical marijuana shop on College Avenue, has sold the nonpsychoactive CBD ingredient mixed into hard candies, chocolates, gummies, capsules and tinctures for just over a year, according to owner Luke Duplessis. Duplessis also owns Mainely Brews.
“We sell a lot of CBD products here,” he said. “We’re always expanding what we’re making, because it’s in such high demand.”
Duplessis said he could not quantify just how much CBD he sells weekly because he “(does) not like to talk about that kind of thing.”
Over at Loyal Biscuit Co. on Main St., manager Adam Balbo estimated the pet shop sells at least 10 CBD products – tinctures or chews – a week.
“Yes, absolutely, they are some of our top sellers,” he said, adding that the CBD helps dogs’ and cats’ anxiety, hip and joint health and immune support.
Customers have yet to come around to CBD infused into hot drinks at Selah Tea, however. Elijah Jackson, who works there as a barista five days a week, said he has added hemp oil to about three drinks in the past month.
Jabar thinks his new Oakland facility will entice customers to try something old with something new.
“There’s a Dunkin’ Donuts right there,” he said, pointing to his Kennedy Memorial Drive neighbor. “People are already coming out this way for coffee.”
He added that by producing CBD on-site, he hopes reduce the costs for consumers.
“A bottle with 500 mg of CBD – where the industry is selling it for $60, we’re going to sell it for $30 or $35,” Jabar said. “People have got to be able to afford it, or it’s like drinking champagne.”
HOW IT’S MADE
Inside the facility, Jabar is building one hemp processing and distilling “pod” at a time. The 30,000-square-foot building can house 10 of these units, though Jabar plans to start with one.
“Each pod will be able to process 3,000 pounds of hemp a day, which translates to 100 kilograms of crude CBD,” he said.
Currently, Jabar buys the raw hemp from out of state but he plans to start sourcing the material from Maine. He is temporarily growing seedlings, or “clones,” at the Kennedy Memorial Drive site to give farmers in the area to plant in their fields. Five local farms have partnered with Jabar so far – one in Benton, one in Blue Hill and three in Palmyra.
“We’re trying to get to 40,000 clones,” Jabar said. “The industry is so new. For these farmers, we want to give them the right clones, the right genetics and all that (to get started). … We weren’t sure how much hemp there was going to be, so we wanted to get control of our own (supply). ”
Eventually, Jabar hopes that hemp farmers throughout the region will bring their harvest to Mainely Processing to be turned into CBD and sold as various products.
“We’re not sure, but we don’t think there are a lot of processing facilities around,” he said. “I think there’s gonna be a lot of people growing (hemp) and we kind of want to be the place where people bring it. … I’ve got a feeling that a lot of people are going to come in – people don’t know what to do with (hemp). The thing with the farmers is they grow it and then they don’t know how to finish it.”
There are 154 hemp growers currently licensed in Maine, and 45 pending applicants, according to Gary Fish, state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. In Kennebec County, he said, there are eight state-approved hemp-growing sites spanning a total of 25 acres. The total licensed hemp acreage across the state is 2,190.
The process for extracting CBD from hemp involves soaking the dry hemp in ethanol at temperature as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, then evaporating the alcohol out through a falling film method. The vapor, trapped in a closed vessel, then condenses and can be reused at the beginning of the process. The CBD goes on to be tested at an independent laboratory in Kennebunk to make sure there are no impurities before it is mixed with lotions, foods and other products.
Jabar has worked with members of his family to refine the process since September 2018. He previously had conducted testing in the old Harris Bakery building in Waterville.
Jabar said the new Mainely Processing facility will be a Good Manufacturing Practices laboratory, meaning that it will be highly controlled according to national Food and Drug Administration standards for safety and quality. It will have a C1D1 area, a type of explosion-proof room required by the state, as well as a HVAC air quality system.