By Beth Waterfall

It takes a heaping dose of courage to create and scale a business in the still-federally-illegal cannabis industry. It also takes a special kind of patience and sense of service to others to do so on Cape Cod, where – despite being part of a state where cannabis is legal for both medical and adult-use sales – bans, moratoria and limited zoning for licensed businesses limit options and opportunities.

For Michelle “Mikki” Bennett, co-owner of local tree servicing business Native Tree LLC, a work-related injury, combined with her love dogs and some inspiration from a colleague, inspired her to create a new business on Cape Cod using a different kind of “tree”: marijuana.

After seriously injuring her ankle and receiving a prescription for the opiate Percocet, a friend suggested Bennett could avoid the opiate’s side effects and potential for addiction by managing her pain with marijuana-infused chocolates. The chocolates worked.

“I experienced cannabis as a complete fix for my pain and a complete replacement for the opiates I was prescribed,” Bennett explains. “I knew that if I could do it, others could, too, especially here on Cape Cod where the opioid epidemic is so prevalent.”

Satisfied with her experience and ready to tell the world about it, Bennett considered family members living with medical conditions such as diabetes, and for whom sugary chocolate simply wasn’t an option. She also thought of how her anxious new puppy and beloved senior Rottweiler, whose weight gain during Bennett’s recovery had exacerbated his arthritis, could also benefit from marijuana. That’s when Bennett went to work in her Falmouth kitchen to find a different, healthier approach to edible marijuana products.

“There were already plenty chocolates, gummies and other candies at the dispensaries, so I decided to focus on CBD-infused granola bars,” said Bennett. “And after attending the 2017 New England Cannabis Convention in Rhode Island, I was motivated to start my own legal, licensed business in this exciting space.”

At her new company, Healing Tree Edibles, Bennett creates CBD-infused granola bars, snack mixes, and dog treats. CBD is one of the non-psychoactive chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant, and has been shown in numerous scientific and clinical research studies to have significant medical benefits for humans and animals.*

Most Healing Tree Edibles products are soy-free, dairy-free, nut-free and made with plant-based butters. The company also manufactures CBD-infused, gluten-free snack mix and sugar-free hard candies in a variety of doses. Next up: an expanded line of dog treats made from dehydrated sweet potatoes – the Rottweiler’s favorite.

As the product line evolves and customer demand increases, more hands are needed on-deck at Healing Tree Edibles. Recently, the company hired Bennett’s cousin, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary program, to focus on CBD-infused product development. For Bennett, however, the road to this expanded team and product line also included several bumps.

In summer 2017, Bennett, a fifth-generation resident of Falmouth, found herself in urgent need to either close shop or relocate. Town officials saw local news coverage of Bennett’s burgeoning business and sent a cease and desist letter ordering her to stop all production of CBD-infused products at her Falmouth home. Bennett responded to that letter by leaving town the same day she received it.

“For the longest time I did everything in my home kitchen in Falmouth, and even obtained craft kitchen certification from the board of health,” Bennett explains. “My family has lived and worked in Falmouth for five generations, but Falmouth banned me, even though I’m working to secure a license for a business that has no store front or direct interaction with the public.”

Now settled in West Barnstable, Bennett prepares cases of her craft granola bars and dog treats daily from her single-oven kitchen. Each piece is cut by hand, making the process time-consuming. Bennett hopes to acquire a license from the Cannabis Control Commission so she may grow her team and expand her product offerings from a licensed manufacturing kitchen. But options are severely limited for Bennett and other local small business operators in the cannabis industry.

“It’s been especially challenging on Cape Cod to find an appropriate, scalable space in a ‘legal’ town,” said Bennett. “Most Cape towns have banned most cannabis business licenses or put a moratorium on the licensing, making it impossible for entrepreneurs like me to start new businesses and create jobs in our communities.”

As local regulations evolve and customer demand increases, Bennett continues to evaluate properties and build her business. Her goal is to see Healing Tree Edibles products on the shelves at both medical dispensaries and retail marijuana shops. To learn more about Healing Tree Edibles visit facebook.com/HealingTreeEdibles/

*Please contact a doctor before starting any cannabis or other healthcare routine.