Hemp Generation provides a safe space for the cannabis-curious

With a baby strapped to her chest, a supermom ready to change a diaper at a moment’s notice, Chloe Blesh doesn’t mince words about the industry she landed in six years ago.

“I tell everyone, ‘I lose more sleep from stress about the business than I do from her,’” Blesh says, gesturing to her young daughter. “Especially with the industry now—it changes quickly. It’s like, are you doing enough? Are you growing quickly enough? We need a bigger space, we need more funds, more sales, we need to maximize production.”

Blesh’s well-justified wishes could apply to any small business in the Triangle, but Hemp Generation—Blesh’s flagship business that she cofounded with Louis Rubio in 2018—deals in the cannabis industry. Scattered across three storefronts in Wake County, Hemp Generation sells CBD and THC products for those seeking a gentler experience with cannabis.

The company’s home-grown manufacturing setup isn’t a massive one. Blesh’s desk is strewn with lab reports while employees in the adjacent rooms funnel cannabis flower into jars and stick aesthetically pleasing labels onto glass tubes. Blesh stands at the desk and rocks side to side, her baby cooing quietly despite the hustle and bustle.

Hemp Generation cofounder Louis Rubio plants hemp at a hemp growing facility

Blesh and Rubio pride themselves on providing education to and comfort for their customers. Each storefront feels clean, almost clinical. Colorful posters on the wall describe the differences between THC and CBD or the benefits of terpenes—bioactive compounds present in hemp. Hemp Generation’s blog posts, dating back to 2022, dive into the benefits of different types of THC or ways to incorporate CBD into your routine.

Blesh says she contracted Lyme disease, and that’s what got her interested in alternative ways of healing. 

“That’s what took my interest. [Cannabis] was a new industry, so it dealt with business and that whole holistic aspect, too—helping other people,” Blesh says. “The medical system doesn’t work for everybody, so being able to offer high-quality, alternative products is interesting.”

So, why the stress?

Cannabis is, understandably, a polarizing topic. Its legality is barely understood, and what few laws do exist are enforced variably from county to county in North Carolina. Phil Dixon, a teaching assistant professor and the director of public defense education at UNC-Chapel Hill, spells it out in simple terms.

“The theory seems to be that as long as those products don’t contain more than a 0.3 percent concentration of delta-9-THC, they’re legal,” Dixon explains. “We only have federal regulation now, and then we have a state law that defines marijuana in the same language that the federal definition uses.”

To break it down a bit further, delta-9-THC is the most common naturally occurring cannabinoid in cannabis plants. It’s also what gives you the “high” when you smoke a joint or take an edible, and it’s one of the most well-studied and well-known forms of THC.

And the 0.3 percent concentration threshold? That’s the only hemp-related law on the books in North Carolina. There’s no widespread product testing, no restrictions on other cannabinoids, not even an age limit for purchase.

“If that plant can leave the farm and pass the test as having a permissible level of delta-9, it doesn’t matter what the other cannabinoid levels are,” Dixon says. “It doesn’t matter what the concentrations are. And it really doesn’t matter what you do with it from there. You go into a store, and they might be advertising a vape pen with all of those things plus a legal concentration amount of delta-9-THC. And there’s nothing that says that’s improper or illegal.”

Without the appropriate regulations in place, North Carolina’s cannabis industry is the Wild West of alternative medicine. Some companies, like Hemp Generation, strive for health advocacy in the cannabis community and stress the importance of research and taking it slow. On the other hand, some unsuspecting consumer could pick up a gummy at the gas station that’s technically under the threshold of 0.3 percent delta-9 and be in for a hell of a ride, thanks to the presence of additional unadvertised cannabinoids.

“I’ve heard all these really bad, sad stories,” Blesh says. “Now [consumers] are coming to us and we kind of have to fix it and paint the picture better. Like, this is what you should’ve been told, you should have tried something smaller. Work your way up in dosage.”

Credit: Photo by Angelica Edwards

To curb the potential for an unpleasant experience, Hemp Generation’s products are explicitly “natural and accurately represented,” according to the company’s website. Each product listing includes a lab report certifying the percentage of cannabinoids, CBD, and THC present within the delta-9 gummies or CBD tinctures you may be interested in buying.

That said, not every company will go to such lengths. The lack of legislation combined with a deficiency of standardized guidance for law enforcement creates gray areas, ripe for businesses to take advantage of gaps in hemp law.

According to Dixon, the emphasis law enforcement places on marijuana prohibition varies from county to county, even from agency to agency. Different law enforcement officers within one county may even treat it differently.

“Some jurisdictions have thrown up their hands and said, ‘We’re not going to enforce [cannabis prohibition] anymore, or we’re not going to prioritize it,’” Dixon says. “It’s one thing if you have a trailer full—but if you have just a small amount, many places aren’t really prosecuting it.”

A blanket policy legalizing recreational marijuana in North Carolina wouldn’t fix everything, either. Not only would it be extremely difficult to pass in the Republican-controlled House, but smaller, home-grown companies like Hemp Generation would suffer at the hands of “Big Hemp.”

“A few years ago, we said, ‘Let’s legalize cannabis and make a marijuana program,’” Blesh says. “But now, it’s come to the point where we have it already. It just needs to be regulated. Letting the big [hemp companies] come in would actually monopolize the industry for smaller companies.”

Despite the gray areas and general sense of ambiguity about the future of cannabis in North Carolina, Blesh is keeping an eye on what’s in her control: namely, production, testing, and customer experience. Hemp Generation isn’t the only business of its kind in the Triangle, but Blesh and Rubio aim to create a safe space for locals curious as to what cannabis can do for them: everything from pain relief to easing anxiety. Their website includes FAQs under some of their most popular products so consumers can understand what they can expect—plus, their business model is consultation-based.

“My consultants ask customers, ‘What have you tried before? Have you tried anything?’” Blesh says. “‘If you haven’t tried anything, then let’s start out with something very, very small. What are your goals? Do you have pain?’”

For newcomers, common sense still applies above all else. Just because there aren’t laws on the books doesn’t mean the basic rules don’t apply: don’t consume hemp in public, don’t drive impaired, and do your own research.

“Go to a shop you’re referred to or explore to see what shops answer your questions,” Blesh says. “You really have to be your own advocate and do your own research, unfortunately, because there are a lot of bad players in the industry who really don’t care about your health.”

It’s also worth keeping the receipts around. If a hemp business provides a certificate of analysis or third-party lab reports guaranteeing a legal product, a consumer can present the proof of purchase to mitigate some of the suspicion surrounding legal cannabis products. It’s not necessarily a foolproof method, though, so a private space is still the best place to experiment with hemp.

These unwritten guidelines aren’t obvious at every shop that sells edibles or THC pre-rolls, but Hemp Generation is dedicated to driving a paradigm shift for the cannabis-curious. Blesh and Rubio want their customers to understand their body’s limits, outline their goals, and start small—preferably with any of Hemp Generation’s products. While she still has to deal with hemp’s ambiguous legal statutes in the state for the foreseeable future, Blesh is generally optimistic about the industry at large.

“We’re mostly here to educate people on cannabis—to offer them high-quality products,” Blesh says. “Most of our products are organic, and we care about what goes in behind it all. We’re not saying, ‘Oh, let’s make the strongest thing possible and offer it to people.’ I want people to have good options that are realistic.”

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