South Carolina (WBTV) - We can't tell you where in South Carolina we are reporting this story. It's down a dirt road, near horses and smack in the middle of a large field.
"I'm building my company here," Janel Ralph says. "I think it'll be up and running in maybe six months." She laughs, "But I'm an optimist. I guess I can't say exactly on the timeline."
Janel Ralph's company is called Palmetto Synergistic Research. She'll be manufacturing hemp cannabis, legally, in South Carolina. She's cultivating them to have specific genetics. What she's making will be high in CBD – the part of the plant that is calming – and to have very little to no THC - the part of the plant that gives you that euphoric "high" feeling.
The result will be plants that will make CBD oil, a strain of medical marijuana.
How is this legal?
There is a hemp bill in South Carolina (S839) that allows for consumable hemp products with a profile of .3% or less of THC. Because of the bill, those "consumable products" aren't considered marijuana, as defined by the State.
Still, because of the controversy surrounding the word "marijuana", Ralph would only do an interview on the condition we'd keep the location secret.
"There will be people who would intentionally try to steal it not knowing that it's hemp," she said. "Criminals could hear I'm manufacturing medical marijuana and think they could take it. They wouldn't understand what I'm making has such a low THC, that even if they took the plants they couldn't smoke it or sell it as marijuana. You can't get high on what I'm making."
Insurance also requires anonymity, but Ralph admits the secrecy is mostly for safety reasons.
"I'm doing something new and that scares people sometimes. So there's a fear in it for me," she said. "Ever since starting all this it has been a fear."
Ralph started this process last year because of her own 5-year-old daughter, Harmony.
Harmony has a genetic condition called lissencephaly. Ralph says that means her brain is missing a deletion of one of her chromosomes and causes lots of seizures. After multiple other medications weren't working, her mother wanted to try CBD oils.
"I knew CBD oil could be beneficial, yet, it was so hard to get," Ralph said. "There's an underground black market for this medicine. I know people who were getting products that weren't what they were promised. I was able to find some for Harmony, and it worked. She was doing great! But then my supply started dwindling. I was scared to death. I thought at one point, 'Oh my God, I'm going to have to cold turkey my daughter in taking this away.'"
She did have to take Harmony off of CBD oil. Ralph says at that point, Harmony started regressing.
"So I said, 'Forget this. I'm done. I'm doing it myself', she says. "I was just so frustrated. We're talking about a hemp product. Let's be real. This is CBD oil. CBD oil! It's not a product high in THC. And yet, I couldn't find it to give to my daughter. I was constantly begging people out in areas where it's legal to find what they could and give it to us. Like some 'Mommy Network.' And it just got to the point where I was the one who needed this for my child, so I realized either I do it myself or sit back and be taken advantage of."
She was determined to do it legally.
South Carolina's vague hemp oil law says you can have CBD oils, but doesn't say how you should or where you can get them. (North Carolina's current law, signed by the Governor in July of 2014 and put into effect in October, says they can only be prescribed through four hospitals in the state, and only through pilot studies.)
But that wasn't the main problem. Ralph said her issue with South Carolina's bill was a separate part that said you can manufacture CBD oils if you're a "licensed grower." It just doesn't define or say what kind of license you need.
"I started by contacting local law enforcement. I asked, 'What do I need to do to grow hemp for medicinal value?'" She laughs. "I wanted to do it all on the up-and-up. Only, law enforcement had no idea."
Ultimately she was told law enforcement has no jurisdiction. She says it was recommended she contact the Agricultural Department. But that department wasn't sure either.
Throughout her research, Ralph realized South Carolina had cut-and-pasted much of its hemp oil bill from Kentucky's hemp oil bill, which is a little more specific. So Ralph went to Kentucky, found a grower there who was "licensed" through the Agriculture Department in Kentucky, made him ten percent part business owner with her, and has now been able to tell South Carolina legislature – in multiple appearances before state representatives – she is following the law.
"I want to be compliant," Ralph says. "I am not a criminal. I don't want to be a criminal. I want to be transparent."
Every time she looks at her daughter, she knows the intense efforts are worthwhile.
"Our hearts are in this," she said. "This has been a terrible process. I'm in debt. I'm stressed. But there's no other way. Everyone involved in my company has a child who can benefit from this medicine. We want this. We want this for our kids."
Ralph says until her 25,000 square-foot greenhouse and 2,500 square-foot processing facility are built in the field where she talked to WBTV, she is making the CBD oil at a facility legally-approved by the Agriculture Department.
"We have 65 customers already," she said. "Kids and adults."
To find out more on Palmetto Harmony – the name of the CBD oil she's making – or to contact Ralph, go to her company website here.
She says it also recently started being sold at two places in South Carolina - a store called Eucalyptus Wellness in Charleston and Emily McSherry, a licensed massage therapist.