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CBD manufacturing company opens in Ronan

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RONAN – The first hemp-processing license in the State of Montana was issued to a Ronan business in November from the Montana Department of Agriculture.

Green Ridge Biosolutions moved into a 15,000 square-foot building at 63298 U.S. Highway 93, located near the Ronan arch, in September. Sam Belanger, chief operations officer, said he looks forward to becoming part of the community. 

“I think Montana is the last best place in the country, and the Mission Valley is the last best place in Montana. It’s beautiful and clean here. We hope the view reflects our product.”

It took longer than expected to remodel the building from what was a sporting goods store to a CBD manufacturing company. Once the inside of the building was ready, equipment was brought in to develop hemp extract and hemp-derived CBD products. Dried hemp is put into a proprietary extractor before being processed through a few other systems to create full-spectrum hemp extract inside the state-inspected facility. 

Belanger buys hemp only grown in Montana. During the day, farmers in work boots and straw hats can be seen bringing 30-gallon sized bags of hemp grown on their farms to the business. “Farming hemp isn’t easy,” said farmer Will Waldner as he stood next to his supply of hemp. “We lost the crop the first year. This year, we were fairly successful.” 

Belanger said he appreciates the work farmers put into growing hemp. “We are excited to continue to scale our operations and support the farmers in Montana. We are proud to make hemp-derived CBD products in Montana. It is an honor to be officially granted a Hemp Processor License by the Montana Department of Agriculture.”

The hemp is stored behind a locking security system in the building. More than 20 bags filled the back room last week. “I want it to be clear,” Belanger said. “This is not marijuana. If someone broke in here and rolled all the hemp we have, they wouldn’t get high. There isn’t enough THC in this building to get high.”

CBD, an acronym for cannabidiol, is a chemical from cannabis plants that don’t create a high, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration. Before the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp was classified as a controlled substance, but the bill removed hemp with very low concentrations of THC from the classification. Hemp plants are legal under federal law as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent of THC. The bill transferred regulatory authority from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

The Montana Department of Agriculture created a hemp-processing license to provide consistency and comply with new USDA oversight established in the Farm Bill, Belanger said. “The rules allow companies and persons wanting to process hemp plants or plant parts to apply for a Hemp Processor license. The processor license allows licensees to produce derivatives for use in products for food, fiber, oils, supplements or drugs (excluding THC) for the wholesale or ingredient market. Hemp processors must comply with city, county and tribal ordinances and laws.” 

Green Ridge isn’t a retail business. A few bottles of oil are on the shelf, along with shampoo and conditioner containing CBD oil. A few jars of moisturizer and muscle rubs with the oil are also displayed. The company’s idea is to manufacture the products and let other businesses sell them, although they do have an online store. “We prefer to support local businesses by letting them sell the product,” Belanger said. The company has sales teams across the United States from Florida to Oregon. The Mission General Store in St. Ignatius is a local retailer. 

Belanger hopes to have a positive impact on the community by creating jobs and getting involved. “As a socially conscious business, we want to be members of the community,” he said. “We want to be involved with the food bank and other programs that work to help people, not just things that make you look good on paper. We want to do something that really helps.”

He said the business could also have a multiplier effect on the community. He imagines the business growing to provide 30 local jobs and those employees will need haircuts and groceries and spend their paychecks in local businesses. He said people will also travel to Green Ridge for business meetings and utilize restaurants and other services. 

Belanger’s goal is to make Ronan the CBD capital. He said Montana is the largest hemp grower in the United States by a “long shot,” but that goal can’t be met without help. “For any company, the most valuable asset is the staff.” He said paying them a living wage was the ethical things to do. At the moment, he has five employees.

The environment is also on Belanger’s top-three list of priorities (people, planet and profit) that he keeps in mind as he develops the business. “We always need to make sure we are doing things in line with environmental goals,” he said. The company recycles and composts hemp materials once the CBD oil is extracted. 

As of last week, a few details were being finished up on the inside remodel, although the outside looks the same. The old Ronan Sports and Western sign stands in front. “We plan to eventually change the sign,” he said pointing to the decorative shrubbery. “With a small business, it takes time to get everything done, but we are getting there.” 

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