Tonic Vibes’ Brittany Carbone on CBD, Farming, and Setting up Shop in New York State

Brittany Carbone is a hemp farmer, and founder and CEO of Tonic Vibes, a CBD topical, tincture, and smoking blend company based in Berkshire, New York. In her previous career as a personal trainer, Carbone experimented with CBD and herbs, but wellness took on a new form as her family sought to post up right in their home state—albeit a bit further north—for their farming adventure.

The Emerald sat down with Carbone at the source, Tricolla Farms, to hear more about how Tonic Vibes holds the torch for New York cannabis farmers.

Cannabis is an agricultural product at its core, and this is why it can be muddied by the idea that hemp is drastically different than cannabis. At Tricolla, the plants are .03% THC compliant, but they are not used for their fibers—they’re fragrant expressions of terpenes and cannabinoids, in this case primarily CBD, limonene, and pinene.

We asked Carbone why she chose to operate in New York state, rather than Colorado or Oregon where more of America’s CBD comes from, and who’s policies have dramatically fewer rules and risks than New York’s largely undefined regulations.

She tells The Emerald that it was a matter of pride in her home state, as well as a desire to keep her family close. The decision to grow hemp flower at their Upstate property was a gamble for them, one Carbone says was made harder by the difficulty of sourcing clean, sustainable, full-spectrum CBD extracts for Tonic products. 

“We were […] at this strange impasse and saw this opportunity. Why not at least look into growing hemp on our own property because then we solve the problem for finding a supplier for Tonic, but we also solve the problem of supply and demand,” Carbone says. 

“The reality was that it was very hard to find a reliable supplier that wasn’t going to hit [us] over the head with prices,” she continues. “Somebody that could actually be a dependable source of safe and high-quality CBD. There really weren’t that many places to turn, a lot of them were very male-dominated and had this kind of underground vibe to them.”

It hasn’t been simple, but Tricolla cultivated a potent harvest from New York’s farmable-but-daunting soil. Carbone knows this is what stops many producers from setting up here, “There was definitely the question in New York of the weather, the climate, and also the fact that [the state] is not the easiest when it comes to doing business,” she adds, “There’s also a little bit more taxes, a little bit more regulation, and a little bit more favoring of big business.”

The challenges of being a New York producer are numerous and real, from entertaining the curious passerby who notices the special leaves, to having to alert their presence to local law enforcement, it’s not all sunshine and green leaves.

Carbone says the state makes it difficult to feel secure, citing “The uncertainty and the inability to get clear cut answers [from the state], and really the way that big businesses are favored over small businesses in New York—and it is unfortunately pretty apparent.”

All the way down to their necessary operating permissions, like extraction and processing, state regulators are especially ambiguous. 

Carbone stresses, “We couldn’t even get answers from them, we were trying to find out the details and again, we were told by the state department that we can do what we want but it’s at our own risk, basically. What kind of answer is that?” she asks, “If it could mean us losing our license [or] facing legal trouble, how are we supposed to base our entire lives on that answer?” 

At Tricolla Farms, because they are a small operation, “[We] definitely have to be comfortable being a little bit uncomfortable and living in some kind of uncertainty,” Carbone explains. 

Farmers in New York were dismayed to find out that after months of radio silence regarding their processing licenses, the state announced expedited licenses for Canopy Growth, a multi-state operator. 

Carbone says the company talked a big game, “[Supposedly] a lot of people are going to be getting jobs from these large companies coming in,” she explains, “[…] Canopy hasn’t even broken ground—they’re holding out for adult use to be legal. Who’s winning here? It’s definitely not the small farmers.” 

Tricolla Farms is focused on quality, not quantity, and getting the best expression of phytochemicals possible from each plant. Rather than giving consumers a secondary, THC-rich cannabis substitute, these folks are trying to follow where the plant leads, and currently, Carbone sees the .03% THC limit as a hindrance to all cultivators, even if CBD is their goal. 

They’re not trying to grow THC potent plants, for the time being, but Carbone thinks the current cut-off prevents the development of important compounds in the plant—compounds that aren’t psychoactive, but therapeutic. 

“[New York State officials] made it so strict as far as needing to draw this line where hemp is on one side and cannabis is on the other, and I hated that. It’s one plant, at the end of the day, it’s Cannabis sativa L.,” Carbone says. “Working with CBD meant Tonic [Vibes’ products] had to be defined as a wellness product, not a cannabis product, to avoid banking and regulatory issues.”

In the past, much of New York City’s food and goods were grown and mined upstate. Perhaps cannabis will bring a bit of this pride back to the communities across the state. Currently, the private prison industry dominates Upstate opportunity, and it depends on the city—and cannabis prohibition—to send more bodies. 

It’s clear the state and city need each other in ways that currently aren’t connecting, and Carbone thinks it is a symbiosis that can return to the right balance with a little care, and maybe some organic, sustainably grown New York cannabis.

Emerald contributor since May 2017

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