Healthy Alternatives, a CBD store in Chocolate Hole, St. John, had a busy grand opening Friday.

CBD products have seen a surge in popularity throughout the country since a farm bill passed by Congress in 2018 removed federal barriers to hemp cultivation in the U.S., and the U.S. Virgin Islands is no exception.

The number of stores selling CBD products in the islands is growing rapidly. Taking it a step further, some V.I. businesses, such as the new Healthy Alternatives on St. John, are now poised to take advantage of a bill that legalizes medicinal marijuana, and are ready to take the next step up from CBD to become medical cannabis dispensaries as soon as regulations are put in place.

CBD often comes from a cannabis plant known as hemp, which is defined by the U.S. government as having less than 0.3% THC, the compound that causes marijuana’s mind-altering effect. CBD doesn’t cause the high, but many users claim benefits including relief for pain and anxiety.

Co-owners Charmaine Vante and Magabe Calixte held the grand opening for Healthy Alternatives on Friday at its location in Chocolate Hole in the former Merchants Bank building. The seeds of the idea to open a CBD store were the result of Vante’s research into her father’s multiple illnesses. The more she researched cannabis, the more she realized its benefits, not just recreationally, but medicinally.

The store offers a multitude of CBD products, from topicals to edibles to pet products, including items from local distributors such as Ras Bobby and Dr. G’s. Tinctures, ointments, teas and coffees, essential oils, and vitamins are all available, and all are lab tested with bar codes that can instantly pull up lab results. They also offer a full line of organic products such as toothpastes, mouthwash and deodorants, plus books and educational materials on the benefits of hemp, cannabis and CBD.

Medicinal marijuana, however, is a distinctly different product than CBD, along the line of prescription drugs as opposed to over-the-counter products. The Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act, which will allow medicinal use and regulation of cannabis and the regulation of medicinal cannabis provisioning centers throughout the territory, was signed in January 2019, though the islands have seen little movement forward creating the Cannabis Advisory Board, the nine-member group tasked with developing the rules and regulations governing marijuana use. In addition, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. recently introduced a proposal for recreational use marijuana, adding a further layer of complexity to the issue.

When regulations are finally decided on, Healthy Alternatives is ready to take the next step to serve St. John as the island’s first cannabis dispensary.

Vante, who works for Varlack Ventures, was born and raised on St. Thomas; and Calixte has spent most of his life on St. John and works for the V.I. Fire Service. Vante feels it is especially important for local entrepreneurs to take an early lead in the CBD and medical marijuana industries.

“We started off in anticipation of doing a dispensary,” she said. “Once the V.I. government gets rules and regulations in place, we’ll go for the license. If we, as local residents, don’t step up and try to do something, others will come in and do it instead. As locals, we felt it was a good opportunity to bring up awareness to local residents as well as tourists. We have a separate designated dispensary room waiting, with privacy, security, access doors, everything that other dispensaries have. We’re ready when it’s time.”

On St. Croix, The Remedy, a CBD store in Christiansted, is taking more of a wait-and-see approach to the idea of a dispensary. Although they have rented the space adjacent to the store, they haven’t fully committed to its use just yet.

“Right now, everything is still to be determined. It’s getting pushed through in the Legislature so they can be scrutinizing it, but nothing is going to be happening anytime soon,” said co-owner Lindsey Rithamel. “It depends on how the legislation is worded. We’d potentially be interested in that, but it needs further clarification. It’s very new right now, but I have high hopes it will get worked out.”

Since opening in July, The Remedy has already experienced its fair share of the pitfalls that come with selling CBD products and the confusion surrounding the difference between CBD and marijuana. According to Rithamel, one of the biggest problems comes from the U.S. Postal Service. Products have to go through Customs, which has not yet devised a way to adequately test products.

“Even with certificates of analysis it’s a problem,” she said. “There are a lot of inconsistencies. It’s hit or miss. The most issues come up with products such as the hemp flowers that look and smell like the flowers from a cannabis plant.”

Despite some issues with shipping product in, business continues to grow.

“We’ve been very busy and we had a great holiday season,” said Rithamel. “It’s been gratifying for us, and we have big plans and hopes for the future.”

For more information regarding Healthy Alternatives call 340-693-7000. The Remedy can be reached at 340-773-7777, or visit both on Facebook.