JAMES ISLAND — CBD, Delta-8 and Delta-9 can be found in products across the nation, including South Carolina.
High Rise Cannabis Dry Bar on Maybank Highway, the first of its kind in the state, is not only showcasing the accessibility of these products to the public, but is bringing up unanswered questions regarding state and federal law.
Erica Stark of the National Hemp Association summed it up: “It’s complicated.”
The new cannabis dry bar doesn’t serve alcohol. Instead, the menu utilizes hemp-derived seltzers produced by High Rise Beverage Co., which cans its seltzers in North Carolina though its owners are based in the Charleston area and also run the Charleston Hemp Collective.
Lowcountry duo Matt and Libiss Skinner hope their innovation sparks a hemp movement in the Palmetto State and beyond.
It all started with Libiss Skinner’s ulcerative colitis diagnosis. She was prescribed 11 pills a day at one point and was on a steroid that came with a cluster of side effects.
“I knew I couldn’t sustain that, and I was really scared,” she said.
After doing her own research, Libiss turned to CBD as part of a daily anti-inflammatory and pain-control regimen, as well as a way to decrease anxiety and stress surrounding her health condition. She hasn’t had a flareup in almost two years.
Because of this, the Skinners have made it their mission to spread awareness of the healing qualities of hemp and hemp-derived products, considering themselves a wellness company more than a recreational beverage company.
The bar’s “mocktails” range from a turmeric, carrot, mango and lime CBD blend to a chamomile, grapefruit and jasmine concoction with a splash of blackberry Delta-8. Seltzers from High Rise also are available at around 200 restaurants, bars and bottle shops in the Charleston area, including Halls Chophouse and Husk. There are plans to franchise the cannabis dry bar concept.
High Rise won for the wellness category in Charleston City Paper’s Best of Charleston Awards in its very first year.
“It’s a big move that it’s in the wellness category, not a cannabis or CBD category,” said Matt Skinner. “That just shows perception is changing in peoples’ eyes.”
That perception might be changing, but the legality surrounding some of these products is still being questioned in South Carolina. Marijuana remains illegal here, though it has been fully legalized in 23 U.S. states. Delta-9 products were federally legalized when the 2018 Farm Bill Act took effect.
The Skinners founded High Rise about a year ago, four years after the Farm Bill Act allowed for hemp-derived Delta-9 products that feature 0.3 percent or less of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry-weight basis. THC is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana.
The main difference between marijuana and hemp is that hemp contains a much lower amount of THC. While hemp growing is legal in South Carolina, and monitored by the state Department of Agriculture, putting hemp products in food and drinks is where the issue lies.
High Rise Cannabis Dry Bar opened on Aug. 11, 2023, on James Island. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved CBD for use in food and drinks, which is the same rule that both the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and North Carolina Department of Agriculture adhere to.
“We wouldn’t inspect this firm because CBD is a prohibited ingredient in food, and we do not inspect any food products infused with CBD,” said Andrea Ashby, the N.C. agency’s director of the public affairs division. “There is currently no federal regulatory framework to inspect these types of products.”
While North Carolina is not regulating these seltzers, the S.C. Department of Agriculture and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control have little to no jurisdiction over them.
“We don’t have anything to do with permitting hemp products,” said Eva Moore, the Department of Agriculture’s communications director. “We don’t have oversight of hemp products or retail. Those are up to law enforcement.”
Moore did say that the Skinners approached the department’s Food Safety Program for help with creating a label for their hemp honey, which they sell at the store on James Island along with their other retail outlets. That was to help ensure the label complied with federal and state law.
DHEC told The Post and Courier they’re not involved as the seltzers are canned in North Carolina, not South Carolina.
According to the Skinners, they’ve gone through the proper channels to be able to can and sell their seltzers.
“The big thing everybody wants to see is that you’re doing it for the right reasons, and are working with SCDA and abiding by laws (the State Law Enforcement Division) has put in front of us,” said Skinner. “You really have to understand hemp law.”
That law is still debatably in a gray area, at least locally. While Delta-9 is cleared at .3 percent THC or less by the Farm Bill Act, there is no mention of Delta-8 — even though it is less potent than its counterpart.
For those who sell Delta-8 products in the state, they assume Delta-8 is understood alongside Delta-9 in the federal law. That’s also backed up by a 2022 court ruling by the 9th Circuit Court.
But according to a statement on the Department of Agriculture’s website, which asks the question “What is Delta-8 and is it legal in South Carolina?,” SLED believes it is not.
“SCDA understands that the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division takes the position that ‘any and all THC that is not a Delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis’ is specifically prohibited,” the website reads. “… Assistant Attorney General David Jones clarifies that Delta-8 THC is viewed as illegal by his office in an opinion for the Chief of SLED.”
In Columbia, the Police Department has, as of early September, sent out letters to a variety of vape shops formally telling them to stop selling Delta-8 products. That hasn’t yet happened in Charleston.
SLED gave no comment to The Post and Courier.
According to Anthony Gibson, the Charleston Police Department’s public information officer, the police department has nothing to do with the licensing of businesses like Charleston Hemp Collective and High Rise. As for the products they sell, they follow SLED for any enforcement.
“In terms of legality, with Delta-8 and Delta-9, we’re waiting on guidance from SLED to see, if we do something, what we can do,” said Gibson. “It’s still in that gray, new operating area.
“We’re definitely going to see some court cases come up from this from the civil side,” Gibson added. “Vague laws require legislation and hearings and the legal process.”
As for people who drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs, marijuana, THC or any sort of substance that causes impairment, the police cite them with DUI.
“Obviously a breathalyzer isn’t applicable here,” Gibson offered. “That would go for a medical test … blood draw or urine sample. It is enforceable if they are impaired.”
Though High Rise is the first dry bar in the state to sell exclusively cannabis drinks, many vape shops sell CBD, Delta-8 and Delta-9 products across South Carolina. In the Lowcountry, Airavata Vapors, which has several locations from Mount Pleasant to Summerville, also offers bar settings, where patrons can purchase and enjoy High Rise seltzers on-site, as well as a variety of gummies and vape products.
These products are all around, and new companies are continuing to pop up as popularity increases.
“What I would love to do is bring the manufacturing side to our state of South Carolina,” said Skinner. “… We would love to support farmers locally in our space, from the hemp side or puree of fruit side of things. High Rise is becoming a nationwide brand, and we’d love to keep as much as we could keep in-state.”
As of now, that might have to wait a little longer as this legal gray area continues to be defined.
Seanna Adcox contributed to this report from Columbia.
The perception might be changing, but the legality surrounding some of these products is still questionable in South Carolina. Marijuana remains illegal in the Palmetto State, despite being fully legalized Read More