When Three Sisters opens in early September, the retail boutique will feature what owner Michael Raus says will be the largest selection of CBD oils in Kentucky.
But it’s just the tip of an iceberg Raus believes is inevitable in rising, and he’s investing in a future in which medical marijuana is legal in Kentucky.
Raus has spent the last two-plus years working with lawmakers to craft House Bill 136, which would make medical marijuana legal to grow and distribute in Kentucky. His motivation comes in part because, after selling his family’s manufacturing business in 2004, he has been looking to invest in some type of manufacturing.
But it’s also because he has seen a need in Kentucky. He has talked to doctors around the state, and he says many agree that medical marijuana would be an effective, natural treatment for people with chronic diseases, cancer and more.
He believes tens of thousands of people would benefit from legalizing marijuana as a legally dispensable — and responsibly controlled — medical product.
Raus believes HB 136 had the votes to pass, although Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, an outspoken opponent, has long been a sticking point. Most recently, in March, HB 136 gained approval by a 16-1 vote by the House Judiciary Committee, but the bill never reached a full House vote to send it to the Senate. Advocates say they will continue their efforts in 2020.
The delays as efforts to legalize medical marijuana work their way through the legislature haven’t stopped Raus from planning to invest $20 million in a growing facility, manufacturing equipment and the retail arm, the Three Sisters CBD market, which will be located at 2509 Grinstead Drive in a building that previously was home to Pets Galore, followed by Parkside Bikes.
He said he already is negotiating to purchase a 100,000-square-foot growing and manufacturing facility downtown, although he declined to reveal a location.
Initially, Three Sisters will offer a wide variety of CBD oils, but it will be a bit more than that. The idea is to consult with each customer to help them decide her best options. Baked goods from local café Naïve, plus juices from Kentucky-based The Weekly Juicery, will help give it the feel of a boutique and cafe. Meanwhile, the upstairs portion of the 3,200-square-foot store will be used for education.
“It’s a CBD oil store on steroids,” Raus joked.
But he sees it as only a start. Personally, he wants to be ahead of the change, but in a broader sense, he wants Kentucky to catch up with the dozens of other states across the country which already have embraced medical marijuana.
He strongly believes it can and will be a new industry for the state, which is important given the current pension crisis and the decline of coal and tobacco industries.
It would boost farming in Kentucky as well, he said.
He believes medical marijuana could be a $35 million to $50 million industry right out of the gate and makes far more sense than the state-wide budget cuts taking place currently.
“You can’t cut services and expect to come out of a deficit,” Raus said. “You have to have new revenue streams.”
More importantly, he believes it also could relieve a lot of suffering by offering more affordable treatments than pharmaceuticals, which are unavailable to people in poorer parts of the state simply due to economics.
“I’ve come to realize big pharma is not our friend,” Raus said. “The FDA is not our friend. People deserve options. And this is an option — a very successful option that works extremely well.”
Raus pledges to put his money where his mouth is.
He said he will initially hire six to eight people to staff the retail store, but envisions hiring 80 people for the growing and manufacturing facility with the plan to provide paid health insurance and starting wages at no less than $18 an hour.
He said Three Sisters will be a “partner” to the community, as well. This is just a matter of principle, he says, and reaching a certain point in life where he realized there was more to it than simply making as much money as possible.
“This is not just a big company coming in trying to monopolize the market,” he said. “We’re going to be very involved in the community in all aspects. That’s very important to me.”
Ultimately, his goal is to open no fewer than 13 stores around the state, with at least three in Louisville. At this point, he believes, it’s just a matter of waiting until Kentucky’s legislature does what he feels has long been inevitable. He said he is tired of watching Kentucky fall behind.
“I want to change that anyway I can, and this is how I’m trying to do it,” he said.
Three Sisters is slated to open Sept. 6.