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A year ago, it still was not clear whether CBD was legally allowed in Indiana.

Now cannabidiol, the cannabis compound commonly known as CBD, is street legal and suddenly everywhere in Northwest Indiana. CBD is being sold in lattes, smoothies, bruschetta, bath bombs, coconut oil, popcorn at bridal shows and in many other forms across the Region. 

A wide array of retailers have started stocking CBD, including pharmacies, health food stores, gas stations, smoke shops, vape shops, a dedicated CBD dispensary in Crown Point and even a fireworks store. Many said it's been flying off the shelves, and a CBD latte at Fluid Coffeebar in Valparaiso is the coffee shop's all-time top-selling drink.

CBD lacks THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that gets people high. But more and more people are using it to treat inflammation, chronic pain, arthritis, spasms, seizures, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, PTSD, neurological disorders and other conditions, though Harvard University says more medical research should be done into its efficacy. Many of the customers buying CBD skew older, and people are giving it to pets to ease their aches and pain, or calm their dogs' separation anxiety.

Region residents have been placing CBD oil under their tongues, swallowing CBD capsules and chewing CBD gummies. They've been slathering CBD salves and lotions on inflamed areas, soaking in CBD-infused bathwater, and vaping it.

Ricky "Ricochet" Chandler started using CBD after he shattered his pelvic bones in a construction accident. He got pinned to a brick wall, squeezed almost to death, and was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down.

He took opioids for the chronic pain but wanted to get off them. That's when he discovered CBD.

"It was a safe alternative," he said. "My father had Parkinson's and it's had incredibly life-changing results. "More and more people have started to see the benefits."

Chandler started lobbying state lawmakers and selling CBD at the Lake County Fairgrounds in 2017, when there was still a lot of uncertainty over its legal status in the state.

"Police would often come by at the fairgrounds and check on the compliance," he said. "We had some interesting conversations with police."

New state and federal laws last year removed all doubt about its legality. A retail merchant's license from the Indiana Secretary of State's office is all that's now required to sell CBD, but new regulations are expected to come out, Chandler said.

Chandler's Willy's Works Fireworks at 1508 N. Main St. in Crown Point has now carved out about 400 square feet of its 2,500-square-foot store just to sell CBD products in big glass display cases.

The 30-year-old fireworks store stocks more than 100 different CBD products, including tinctures, sublinguals and CBD-infused coffee and tea. It shares free samples for people and hosts educational seminars, both at the store and local restaurants, about how it can be used for to treat pain management, epileptic seizures, Alzheimer's, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

"Some people are still worried about the stigma," Chandler said. "But it's becoming very popular and more and more places are stocking it. They're saying it could grow to a billion dollar industry."

Estimates of the potential market for CBD vary, but the market researcher Brightfield Group forecasts CBD could grow into a $22 billion industry nationwide by 2022. It's been a big draw to the fireworks store, a longtime staple of Crown Point where kids get free sparklers if they say "Willy Works."

"It's transformed the business," Chandler said. "Normally with a fireworks store you do a whole year's worth of business in one month. This is bringing in people year-round."

His father Rick "Willy" Chandler said Willy's Works has been stocking more CBD products to keep up with demand after it was flying off the shelves.

"At first we had a hard time keeping up," he said. "But now we're ordering thousands of dollars of product a month."

Once CBD was legalized, Fluid Coffeebar at 159 W. Lincolnway in Valparaiso started thinking of how it could be incorporated in drinks, owner Alison Scates said.

"In Colorado, where it was already legalized, they were doing CBD lattes and cold brews," Scates said. "We tried different drink recipes. We wanted something completely vegan because we felt like people who were interested in the health benefits would want something healthier."

Fluid's CBD latte The Wes is named after quirky film director Wes Anderson, known for movies like "Rushmore." It's made with espresso, oat milk, organic agave nectar and CBD powder from the local distributor Green Balance Health and Wellness. It's proven so popular that they're looking to add more CBD drinks in the future.

"It's the No. 1 selling drink we've ever had," she said. "It just really took off on our social media and Instagram. People who are curious about CBD can try it without having to spend a lot of money."

Crown Point-based Green Balance Health and Wellness also supplies its flavorless, odorless CBD powder to the newly opened Island Nutrition Smoothie & Juice Bar at 1675 Morthland Dr, in Valparaiso. The new juicery, which opened last week, will add CBD powder to any of its smoothies or juices for an upcharge, and also stocks some Green Balance products for retail sale.

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Other adds-include flaxseed oil, creatine, and berries.

"We'll add 12 milligrams or 24 milligrams depending on your needs," Island Nutrition owner Scott Milligan said. "Someone with a small frame might need only 12 milligrams where a bigger guy like myself would want 24. People have been intrigued by it. We're going to have an educational event on Feb. 15 to talk about the benefits."

The more you know

Education remains a crucial component for many retailers.

"Most of the people who come in and are interested about it have a ton of questions," said Max Burkett, the manager of the Vapin N Valpo, Vapin in Hobart and Vapin in Portage stores. "They want to know about the scientific research, what's effective, and the government regulations around hemp and cannabis."

Most of the customers skew older, with many between 40 years old and 60 years old, he said.

"After I turned 30 I discovered it can hurt just to be alive," Burkett said. "As people get older they have more injuries and achiness. They don't want to use opiates or want to quit taking Xanax."

The Vapin in Valpo stores, which started in 2012 to encourage more people to stop using tobacco, sell CBD vape liquid, bath bombs, lotions, dog treats and pet spray, among many other products.

"People use it for older dogs with hip dysplasia or smaller dogs with separation anxiety," he said. "We just expanded the types of products we carry and are seeing a lot of repeat business from people who have found it to be effective in their lives for whatever reason, whether aches and pains or anxiety and depression."

Revolution Valparaiso, an eclectic shop at 307 E. Lincolnway B that sells '60s-style clothes, records, books, incense, and smoking accessories, has stocked several CBD items, including topical creams and Mio flavored-water additives. 

"It's selling really well," owner Alisha Bailey said. "It ebbs and flows because people are broke after Christmas, but now there's an upswing as people are anticipating their tax money."

Many of the customers are elderly and looking for relief for rheumatoid arthritis, achy joints, and other ailments, Bailey said.

"It's a strong anti-inflammatory that doesn't damage your liver," she said. "Some people are trying to claim it cures everything or that it's stronger than it really is, which we don't do, but more people are definitely taking it as a pain medication and an alternative to pharmaceuticals."

Karen Klaus and Ryan Staniszeski have been selling various CBD products online and distributing them to stores across the Region through their Green Balance Health and Wellness company, which they founded in August. They hope to eventually open a brick-and-mortar retail store somewhere in Lake or Porter County.

They source their CBD from Colorado and have been promoting it across Northwest Indiana, including at Charcuterie in Griffith, where a chef incorporated CBD powder into a bruschetta and a flatbread for a special tasting event.

"You can literally sprinkle it onto a pizza," Klaus said.

This Sunday, Green Balance Health and Wellness will be offering their products at the I Love Coffee 5k at Hawthorne Park in Chesterton in the morning and at a bridal fair at Wicker Park in Highland in the afternoon.

"We'll introduce a wedding cake popcorn at the bridal fair," Klaus said. "Brides have anxiety, and CBD is well known for reducing stress and anxiety."

Though people still don't know a lot about it, or confuse it with marijuana, CBD has been becoming more mainstream because people have been seeking alternatives to big pharma and over-the-counter pills, Klaus said.

"It's a natural alternative," she said. "It's not a cure-all, but it's a supplement that can take some of those aches and pains away."

They have been working to place their products in more health food stores and say the business will only continue to grow as more people become aware of CBD and its potential benefits.

"There's some apprehension, especially from folks in the Midwest, not being familiar with it," she said. "They might say, 'Oh my gosh' if they have to put it on their tongue. But if it's mixed into a drink it takes that apprehension away. You can drink your smoothie or latte and go about your day while the CBD works on your aches and pains or anxious feelings. We want to let people know there is a natural product that's a healthy alternative to taking pills."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.