Photo courtesy of Hendrix Vision Joint

Kyle Brown’s oldest client is in her mid-80s.

She was dead-set against anything to do with cannabis before a bout with cancer and subsequent chemotherapy drove her to desperation.

After speaking with her doctor and with Kyle Brown 20MBA, owner of cannabis bar Bookstore Gallery, the woman tried CBD tea. She’s been a regular ever since. Nothing else has proven as effective at relieving her insomnia, restoring her appetite, and driving away a lingering metallic taste that’s haunted her palate for months.

The woman is one of many. Located in the Castleberry Hill district, Bookstore Gallery—which sells hemp-infused teas, topicals, candles and more—sees upwards of a thousand patrons a day. She is joined by people seeking relief from symptoms of cerebral palsy, chronic pain, and ADHD; clients on the autism spectrum looking to improve their communication; and even police officers seeking topical treatments to relieve aches and pains.

“Our client base transcends every culture and age group,” says Brown.

A Holistic Approach to Health

Originally from New York, Brown has considered Atlanta his hometown since he moved there in 2009 to complete his bachelor’s degree in finance from Morehouse College. Although he enjoyed working in that sector post-graduation, the lure of entrepreneurship was “burning in his spirit.” Heeding the call, he enrolled in the One-Year MBA program at Emory’s Goizueta Business School.

Sadly, shortly after starting the program, Brown lost his closest friend and mentor—his grandfather.

“That was the first time I really experienced depression,” says Brown.

Brown took a semester off in 2019 to focus on his mental health and sought therapy. Through his soul searching, he saw that—just like the way a community is more than the sum of the people within it—one’s individual health is more than the sum of how your organs are performing. He became interested in holistic living, and sought to explore the mental, spiritual, and physical components of health.

When he learned about the various ways cannabidiol (CBD) could influence all of the above, it piqued his interest. Shortly before he resumed his coursework, Brown’s aunt, an expert gardener, moved to Atlanta from California. An advocate of natural medicine, she had long been growing her own herbs for healthful teas. She was also curious about the potential of CBD; the timing for both of them couldn’t have worked out better.

The Goizueta Advantage

Brown cites Goizueta’s One-Year MBA program as a critical step in bringing his dream to fruition.

“My whole resume is being utilized every single day,” says Brown. “The coursework, the case studies, and especially my work with IMPACT and Lynne Segall.

In fact, it was a Goizueta-sponsored holiday pop-up event where Brown and his aunt (known as AunTea around the community) caught the first big wind in their sails. The pop-up encouraged student participation and featured local entrepreneurs with their arts and crafts. The aunt and nephew duo conducted a trial run with some of their first tea products.

We had professors, doctors, and students coming back for second and third cups of tea, asking us where they could buy it.

Kyle Brown

It was the reaction they’d hoped for; they knew they had a good product.

Brown graduated in 2020, during a time when the pandemic threw many entrepreneurial pursuits for a loop. But the public’s focus on health and wellness actually provided a fertile ground for his products. Before he could build out his team, he and AunTea continued to work in their home kitchen, finalizing their tea formulas and discussing their marketing pitches. They operated online and relied on word-of-mouth referrals before launching a brick-and-mortar store.

Only a few years later, they’re already looking to expand. They’ve identified a second location in the Edgewood community with plans to open this year.

A Community Wellness Center

In many states where marijuana and CBD are legal, the businesses that sell them resemble Apple stores. Patrons interact with a member of security before entering a clinical atmosphere, where they select products displayed behind pristine glass cases. Think bright lights, white space, no seating, and certainly no invitation to linger.

Bookstore Gallery could not be more different.

Photo courtesy of Hendrix Vision Joint  

Brown modeled the shop in part after what he’d witnessed on a Goizueta study abroad trip to the Netherlands. There, one can buy marijuana and hemp products in coffee shops. Patrons become regulars and develop relationships with their “bud tender.” Each bud tender has intimate knowledge of both their products and the needs of their clients. The store is a social space.

Brown takes this approach even further. His store features an abundance of cozy seating and local art for sale on the walls. From the curated playlists to the scent of aromatherapy oils, everything about the environment carries healing intention.

While its products assist in pain management on an individual level, Bookstore Gallery leads the charge of healing on a community level. Before opening his doors, Brown surveyed his future customers and folks in the area, including many students in nearby universities, veterans, and the unhoused people in their neighborhood. What did they want out of this space?

The people spoke: they wanted safe spaces to seek help and discuss difficult matters. That has resulted in a litany of regular events. Happy Hour Healing meets every month and features a clinical psychologist discussing a new topic. There are weekly game nights where patrons enjoy the simple joy of play. They host a tailgate for every home Falcons game and spoken word poetry nights. A biweekly mental health meetup for men is especially popular, attracting attendees ranging from 21-75 years of age. “Puff and Paint” happens every weekend and is frequently led by a local artist; Bookstore Gallery provides the canvas and paint and encourages inspiration to take control, yet another creative form of therapy.

For Brown, it’s all part of his holistic healing mission.

What we really work to do is just help people understand that everything is connected, and we need each other.

Kyle Brown

Hemp vs. Marijuana, CBD vs. THC

Much of the public remains confused about cannabinoids and their spectrum of legality. This is no surprise; the story is complicated and sometimes contradictory. A campaign to conflate marijuana and hemp in the 1930s, motivated by racism against immigrants and people of color, and by competing industries like cotton and paper, is partially to blame. Clearing up the confusion comes part and parcel with the industry, and Brown is passionate about empowering others by educating them on this topic.

Brown describes hemp and marijuana as cousins. They look similar and smell similar; they belong to the same species of plant, Cannabis Sativa, but marijuana is heavy on the compound tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC (around 10-30 percent). Hemp, meanwhile, is low in THC (.03 percent or less) and high in cannabidiol, known as CBD.

CBD and THC are both “cannabinoids,” compounds that interact with receptors in the brain. THC is psychoactive and considered an intoxicant. CBD, meanwhile, is felt strongly in the body and generally isn’t regarded as intoxicating or impairing in any significant way.

Are CBD and THC legal? That depends on what state you call home, from which plant the respective cannabinoid was sourced, what kind of product it’s in, and whether or not the federal government will crack down on state laws that undermine their own. For example, though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, Georgia legalized the possession and consumption of marijuana for certain medical conditions in 2015. Yet, the state did not legalize the sale of marijuana until last spring. Warnings from the DEA at the end of last year have now left the practice in legal limbo.

Brown is able to operate legally at the state and federal level thanks in part to the 2018 Farm Bill. The law made hemp-derived CBD, and hemp-derived THC, legal–though it’s contingent on the type of product in question. Across the nation, legislation related to both CBD and THC continues to evolve at the federal and state levels.

A Burgeoning Industry

Photo courtesy of Hendrix Vision Joint  

Many remain skeptical of hemp and its high-profile cousin marijuana. However, a recent Gallup poll shows the majority of U.S. adults believe marijuana consumption should be legalized. Regardless of how people feel about their legalization, education surrounding what these substances are and how they work is critical, given their common consumption, legal or otherwise.

Brown is quick to emphasize that both CBD and THC are not without their risks. Anyone interested in using them should always consult with their physician first. Yet, he maintains that both substances are powerful medicines that have enormous potential in the public health sector and beyond.

“The research is very promising, but we just need more of it. I’ve talked to people who have used CBD to wean themselves off opiates. Some of my employees are veterans, and CBD helps them with paranoid and negative thoughts. The research backs up their experiences.”

As usual, Brown’s thinking is big picture. He sees the interconnectedness of health between people and the ecosystem, a term frequently referred to as “One Health” in the health and science community. The potential of the burgeoning marijuana and hemp industry bleeds into many sectors. Brown makes a case for how these changes could be positive in nearly all of them.

“Hemp is one of the most sustainable things we could possibly be using right now,” says Brown. “You can literally build a house out of hemp.” Indeed, hemp has over 25,000 commercial uses, ranging from textiles, biodegradable plastic, to home construction, biofuel and more. Hemp also detoxifies soil of heavy metals, a noxious pollutant to our food and water sources.

“I really want to make sure that the next generation understands the opportunities that will come with the growth of the cannabis and hemp, all around the country. It’s more than just putting a seed in the ground and rolling it up six months later. We’re going to need smart business folks who know how to vet the supply chain. We’re going to need marketers and salespeople. We’re going to need engineers and horticulturists. We’re just getting started.”

Self-Care: Practice What you Preach

How does someone become a successful entrepreneur?

Everyone wants to make money, but you are the currency.

Kyle Brown

“The expression that you can’t pour from an empty cup is true,” says Brown. “If you’re able to be a true testament, if you take care of yourself, everything else will follow. When you’re your best self, you can impact everyone around you for the better.”

With Goizueta’s One-Year MBA program, students expand their business acumen through experiential learning and accelerate their careers in just one year. Read more about the One-Year Accelerated MBA program.

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