Reuben Riehl is a farmer by trade, a businessman by profession and a scientist at heart.
The Bart Township Amish owner of Lancaster County Cannabis, a Christiana-based hemp and CBD business, said he likes to dig into a subject to find the root of the issue. And Riehl said his business has at times made him feel like a lab technician, experimenting with the different cannabis compounds to help treat a wide range of ailments from insomnia to inflammation.
Ultimately Riehl said his goal is to reach out to people who haven’t tried hemp or CBD products before and show them the medical benefits they possess through a natural product.
“The way it should be is you can go out and grow your own stuff and make your own medicine,” Riehl said.
Lancaster County Cannabis was formed in January of 2020, operating out of the basement of Riehl’s home. He said he didn’t know much about the hemp or CBD industry when he first started, but he went about immersing himself in its study to create a local product.
Riehl started the business right after the 2019 growing season in which thousands of acres of CBD hemp were grown across Pennsylvania for the first time after the 2018 federal Farm Bill legalized hemp for the first time since 1937.
Insiders and agriculturalists estimated in 2019 that CBD was going to be a billion-dollar industry by 2023, Riehl said, but the industry “didn’t near reach that.” A lack of manufacturing infrastructure left hundreds of farmers holding crops they couldn’t sell or process, leading to many of the growers immediately leaving the industry in frustration.
“Everybody thought they had the markets figured out,” Riehl said. “But when it came time to sell it, nobody could sell it. That’s when we jumped in as a marketer.”
Riehl initially started the business as a wholesaler, traveling around the county to different shops to try and sell products like the raw CBD flower from the harvested plant. He said he started Lancaster County Cannabis with one pound of CBD flower.
CBD flower and other products were coming into Lancaster County from western states that had been growing and manufacturing it before it was federally legalized, Riehl said, but it wasn’t of the quality grown locally in an area historically known for its hemp production through places like Hempfield.
Today Lancaster County Cannabis sells everything from raw flower with names like “Suver Haze,” “Stormy Daniels” and “CBD Moonrock” to pre-rolled cigarettes with the CBD hemp. All the CBD products must contain less than 0.3% total THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.
Riehl said some of the raw flower is turned into CBD oil at a processing facility in East Earl. Riehl then uses the distillate oil to make CBD tinctures with different levels of cannabinoids, the active ingredient in cannabis that can treat everything from anxiety and insomnia to chronic pain and arthritis.
One of the most popular products are the vaping cartridges, Riehl said, which is a cleaner way of ingesting the CBD compared to smoking the raw flower. He said it also has a quicker absorption time.
They also sell gummies, lollipops, CBD-infused raw honey, topical creams and salves and massage oils.
Riehl said the marketing of CBD to the public as a health product proved to be a “bottleneck” that didn’t provide the right information for consumers to make educated purchases. He said low-quality products marketed at gas stations and convenience stores also didn’t help with consumer opinions on the effectiveness of CBD.
“People needed to know what CBD was and try it and use it,” Riehl said. “That was the first step, and not everybody was going to try it right away.”
Lancaster County Cannabis moved into its current building on Newport Avenue just outside Christiana proper in 2020 where Riehl set up the processing facility and opened a small retail counter. The building formerly housed Harold’s Oak House, an Amish-made furniture business.
Riehl branched out by creating a website last year to sell his products. He said the website led to more retail customers coming into the store to see the products firsthand.
Riehl said he likes the retail side of the business because he can get instant feedback from customers about the products.
“It tells you what people are liking, what do they want and what’s the effects of different things,” Riehl said.
Lancaster County Cannabis moved its counterspace into a new more visible spot in the building at the beginning of September. The counter is connected to the Traveling Shoppers Boutique, an antique and curiosity shop that opened around August.
Riehl said having the counter connected to an antique store exposes his products to a clientele that typically wouldn’t be seeking out CBD or cannabis products.
Jean Ann Curry, owner of the Traveling Shoppers Boutique and a resident of Christiana, said some of the older people who have come into her shop have made their way to the CBD counter, willing to try some of the oils and creams.
Curry said she’s tried some of the CBD products for the first time since teaming up storefronts with Riehl, taking CBD gummies for a headache and creams for her psoriatic arthritis. Curry said she even tried a CBD bath bomb Riehl is experimenting with, saying the experience was “very relaxing” and immediately noticed a difference in her pain levels.
“It’s really amazing how it works,” Curry said.
Hemp Growing and Customer Feedback
Riehl said hemp production provides an alternative crop for farmers to grow rather than tobacco grown in Lancaster County. He said tobacco depletes the soil and requires chemical spraying, while CBD hemp is free of chemicals and helps with soil remediation.
Riehl currently has five different Amish farmers under contract to grow his hemp, telling them what variety of seeds he wants grown at the beginning of the season.
The current growing season saw the lowest number of pounds of CBD hemp grown in Pennsylvania since its first season in 2019, Riehl said, but the smaller crop numbers could actually help with the price of the product for the farmers because of less competition.
“Some people stuck to it, and there’s still people sticking to it,” Riehl said. “Every year, we’re losing more people growing it.”
Some of the biggest changes Riehl has seen in the CBD industry since it was legalized are the changes in the different isolated cannabinoids in the hemp. He said hemp has many different cannabinoids that impact the body in various ways, and studies are underway to better determine how each compound interacts with the body and to better formulate treatments.
“Now we need to get to the people that don’t know about it and educate them,” Riehl said. “That’s the big thing we do here is educate people and help them.”
Riehl said he has customers coming in with different ailments they’re looking to treat. He recently had a Vietnam War veteran come in suffering from PTSD symptoms and was looking for a CBD product to deal with his anxiety.
Lynn Hockler, a Lancaster resident came to show Riehl some of his Amish-inspired folk art paintings, including one with a Cheech & Chong theme and a buggy saying “Up in Smoke – Hemp Farm Tour Adventures” with smoke billowing out the sides.
Hockler said he has had four joint replacements through his life and that he uses CBD oil so he can sleep through the night without pain and that it “takes off the edge.” He said he previously had to take opioids for his pain even though they’re extremely detrimental to the body through serious side-effects, but CBD oil has helped limit the amount of pain medications he was taking.
Hockler said he considered applying for a medical marijuana card to legally purchase it for his pain, but he said he has a concealed carry gun permit that prohibits him from applying for a medical marijuana card. He said he still gets the same health benefits from CBD oils without the psychoactive effects of THC in medical marijuana and can still enjoy his hobby of shooting pistols at indoor and outdoor ranges.
Ryan, a Chester County resident who didn’t want to provide his last name, came to the counter to purchase some CBD flower after he discovered the business existed near his girlfriend’s house in Christiana. Ryan said he suffered a serious injury on his job as a carpenter 15 years ago that caused him to have five different surgeries and take upwards of 20 different medications.
He said he went blind for several months from diabetes around four years ago and was 100 pounds overweight from all the medications he was taking. He said he started traveling around the country for medical marijuana to try “to figure this whole thing out because of the type of injury I have,” looking for a natural anti-inflammation treatment.
Ryan said he stopped taking all medications and went strictly to using medical marijuana products. He said his goal now is to experiment with different combinations of CBD and THC to develop a topical oil for inflammation.
He said he believes Riehl’s CBD flower could be the “missing ingredient” he’s been looking for to develop his own oil.
“We’re still just learning a lot of this stuff,” Ryan said. “It’s still in its infant stages, but it’s exciting to see where it can go.”
Growing the Business
Riehl continues to expand Lancaster County Cannabis, manufacturing hemp products for other companies. This summer he started producing herbal cigarettes mixed with CBD hemp for a business out of Berks County.
In the production room are bins of raw CBD flower that are bagged up or ground to make the cigarettes.
Riehl is also curing CBD flower in an emptied wine barrel from the Napa Valley in California. He said the wine should give the CBD flower more of a smoky flavor.
“I’m always up for the next trend to figure out what the next new thing is or the next best thing to stay ahead of the curve,” Riehl said.
Riehl tests all the CBD products through a certificate of analysis (COA), an expensive process to conduct but ensures the products meet regulation standards. All the COA’s are posted on the website to inspect.
Riehl said there is still much work to be done in the study of CBD and hemp, including the benefits of terpenes in the plant. He said the terpenes give a plant its taste and smell, and hemp has the most terpenes of any plant and could be a major health benefit.
He said he has also been approached by former pharmaceutical employees to experiment with the CBD in his products, focusing on natural remedies.
“If we put science and the people who have the knowledge together, we could learn a lot,” Riehl said.