Two handmade wooden deck chairs shaped like spindly marijuana leaves welcome customers as they enter Magic Mann, the first CBD cafe in Vermont.

South Burlington resident Meredith Mann is the pioneer and leading lady behind the cozy cafe which opened in Essex last month and serves baked goods, lunch faire and grab-and-go meals, in addition to a myriad of CBD products.

One display showcases baggies of sipping tea made with cannabis flowers next to fat, handmade caramels and ruby lollipops infused with CBD. Bright prints by local artists line the walls and a poster about the benefits of CBD in managing pain and opioid addiction offers a bit of education for newbies.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical found in hemp plants. Marijuana’s tetrahydrocannabinol, another chemical derived from hemp, is legal to grow on a small scale in the state. It cannot, however, be sold in a retail market until next year. CBD does not have the same psychoactive effects as THC, but many who use CBD experience calming, relaxing effects.

According to the Harvard Medical Blog, CBD does not cause a “high” but is effective in treating epilepsy, managing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. As a relatively young compound, it is heavily studied, though unknowns remain.

Most commonly, Mann has noticed, people use CBD to reduce anxiety and as a sleep aid, though she is consistently surprised by the wellness benefits of the chemical. Some customers use it to manage pain from fibromyalgia, cancer treatment and arthritis, to lower blood sugar, to manage epilepsy, to reduce anxiety and stress and, for some, combat addiction.

“One of the most compelling ways is how many people are able to come off of opioids and have some quality of life,” Mann added.

She often takes CBD as a mid-day focuser, instead of a cup of coffee.

“I’ve learned to use it for my wellness and recreationally — and that’s OK,” said Mann. “Cannabis in my opinion is essential.”

This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when anxiety and depression levels have climbed amongst many — Mann hopes her cafe can provide an accessible respite from the daily grind.

According to the Center for Disease Control, 40 percent of adults across the country reported struggling with mental health issues or substance use in June, a few months into the pandemic — four times higher compared to the previous year. In the same study, 31 percent of adults reported feelings of anxiety and depression. A significant amount of people who reported feeling suicidal included young adults ages 18-24, Hispanic and Black respondents, unpaid caregivers and essential workers.

Accessibility is key

She is most gratified when she’s able to help customers alleviate some pain or find wellness.

“The number one most important thing is when people come in and say, ‘Thank you, you’ve changed my life.’ That’s huge. And as a Jewish mother, I enjoy feeding people anyway,” she said, laughing. “Separate from CBD alone, people being gratified in the products themselves is really rewarding for me.”

Separate from CBD, Mann’s talent for cooking is evident in her creativity — and the delicious smells wafting around the shop. Her favorite concoction at the moment is a cupcake made with a special porter from Uncommon Coffee and Black Flannel, two businesses a few blocks from the cafe, topped with CBD frosting and candied bacon bits.

Mann also caters events, sells hemp products wholesale and online, and sells products made from other Vermont producers.

One local producer she works with is Jane Lanza, main owner of Family Tree Hemp Company, a small family-run farm in Vermont.

“I think what Meredith is doing here is really special,” said Levy. “As far as building a space where people can go visit, where the public can learn and try it without stigma, to be delighted in a sensory way — it’s a very bright introduction to CBD.”

She is proud to work with Mann, another small local female-run business, making CBD more accessible. When the retail market for marijuana is officially legalized next year through a municipality opt-in method, Levy hopes that sustainability and equity in farming practices do not get lost in the rush for efficiency.

“We want Vermont to create a market that uplifts small farmers, people of color, and women — that’s what many people are fighting for in Montpelier,” said Levy.

Under the new law passed last year, Vermont municipalities can add an item to local ballots in 2022, allowing residents to vote to opt-in to retail marijuana sales. South Burlington city council briefly discussed the potential for such a ballot item at a January meeting before passing the issue on to the Economic Development Committee for further research.

Mann has lived in South Burlington for 22 years and raised both her kids there. She hopes the city is receptive to marijuana sales when the time comes, but knows community voice will be integral to passing the ballot item.

“My dream would be to have a location in my own community as well,” she said.

While much of the cafe creates a cozy living room vibe, complete with soft reggae tunes and ornate cushions, Mann’s emphasis on education and medicating responsibly is also obvious.

She’s spent her life studying cannabis and previously worked as a bud tender at South Burlington’s Champlain Valley dispensary. As the COVID-19 pandemic weans and in-person events are allowed to recommence, Mann hopes to offer education and cooking classes. When summer comes, she’s excited to sell CBD creemies from a little to-go window — she dreams of people gathering together, chatting, asking questions and munching on her CBD confections: keeping the community in cannabis, as she likes to say.

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