An Amish Cannabis Company? Owner Riehl, 29, Explains

Back in 2019 we had a look at the Amish and hemp farming, a trend that emerged after Pennsylvania legalized hemp cultivation.

Now four years later, a new piece at DailyMail.com looks at “the booming business of Amish cannabis farmers” with a visit to the retail location of Lancaster County Cannabis, owned by a 29-year-old Amishman who goes only by his last name in the story (Riehl).

This can be a tricky subject, but I can say it’s really well-done and informative reporting giving a good look at how the hemp farming trend among Amish has developed over the past several years.

Now one thing first: when you see the word “cannabis” in a title, many people will think of one thing right off the bat: marijuana. But hemp, from which CBD is derived, is also a cannabis plant. Under the law, the plants which farmers grow can only have a strictly limited amount of THC, the active ingredient.

Hemp farming provides Amish people an alternative cash crop to tobacco, the long-cultivated moneymaking plant of choice for Amish in the region. In an area where you need to make a lot of money to afford land, that part is important.

CBD-based products from Amish-owned Lancaster County Cannabis

Who is the owner of Lancaster County Cannabis? From the article:

Father-of-three Riehl, 29, is the brains behind the operation. Born in neighboring Chester County, he is a craftsman by trade, having started out making sheds before working six years in a hardware store.

He started Lancaster County Cannabis in 2020 from his basement, putting the odd pound of cannabis into a jar and taking it to small CBD and smoke shops.

Four years on, he is looking at lucrative contracts with processors in California and the Midwest.

Riehl, dressed in traditional Amish attire, sits behind a wooden desk at the back of his store, which sells a range of home-made CBD products including lollipops, vapes and bath bombs.

Jars of pre-rolled ‘Hawaiian Haze’ CBD cigarettes sell for $100 a pop, but customers can also choose from a range of strains, including ‘Critical G’, ‘Suver Haze’ and ‘Merlot’.

The products are marketed for their medicinal and health purposes. The CBD lollipops are meant to help people sleep; Riehl warns not to consume too much.

The business is apparently booming, with Riehl saying he sold 50,000 lbs of hemp in the past year. This translates into a half-million dollars in sales; Riehl projects sales reaching into the millions within the next two years. He does not grow himself, but the business works with around 20 local growers.

Amish farmer Stoltzfus under drying cannabis plants. Photo: Zak Bennett/DailyMail.com

The business sells both wholesale raw hemp to processors, as well as homemade CBD products to individuals and other stores. A look at his operation:

Riehl’s lab is a modest affair, consisting largely of a few scales and mixing jars.

He says he usually has a couple of Amish girls – aged between 14 to 20 – helping him out.

But, of his most recent helpers, one has recently married while the other ‘quit’ because she found the smell ‘too strong’, leaving him bereft of lab assistants for the time being.

An older Amish man does, however, wander through the store room, which is laden with bags upon bags of hemp.

He helps Riehl use an electric trimming machine to refine the cannabis plants.

It may all appear a bit rough-and-ready, but this is serious business.

The day after DailyMail.com’s visit, Riehl is leading a mini-lobby group of Amish cannabis farmers to consult state politicians on future regulations of the industry.

I was in touch with the article author Miles Dilworth, who shared some additional insight relating to this last point. He adds that “they were worried they might be squeezed out by ‘big cannabis’ and that they feared some of the larger cannabis firms were lobbying for regulations that would ultimately make it too onerous for them to stay in the game.”

Also: “So the optimism of their sales projections were slightly tempered by the uncertainty of the industry and particularly the regulatory landscape.”

An Amish Cannabis Store?

I have to admit that this is one of the last businesses I might have imagined Amish owning, had you asked me five years ago.

I still find it a bit surprising how hemp cultivation has become accepted in the settlement here (at least in some churches), and especially given the fairly recent history in this community.

Twenty-five years ago, two young Amish males in Lancaster County were caught and later convicted for distributing hard drugs. That traumatic event caused quite a change in the community, leading to more parental supervision of youth groups.

Of course, CBD is nothing like a hard drug (though I don’t think everyone has made that distinction). And at the same time, you can see how the idea of CBD fits in with the Amish health ethos which is generally quite open to “all-natural” and alternative treatments.

And when pitted against the alternative of tobacco, with its well-known negative health effects, something like hemp raised for CBD to help people sleep better can look downright wholesome.

At the same time, Riehl admits that the products can be abused:

But Riehl admits they are treading a ‘fine line’.

Already, one Amish cannabis operation has been forced to shut down by the community after it was deemed to be flogging CBD for recreational use.

‘Some youth got high from it,’ he says. ‘That’s not good at all. It was a big, big mess.

‘It was very bad even for us. Because now people are looking at it, like, this is something the Amish should not do.

‘We try to present it as a medicinal [product], so we haven’t had any kickback yet.

‘Those are two different pictures of the cannabis industry. If we could get more people to realize what the benefits are of the product in the Amish community and the wider community, then that’s good.

‘But if those other businesses get more publicity, everybody’s going to be, like, “shut it down”.’

Riehl sincerely believes in the medicinal benefits of cannabis. He eulogizes about the benefits of CBD vapes for relieving stress and says he uses a CBD lollipop to help him get to sleep.

‘I used to take a [CBD] tincture, but it kicked too hard and it was hard to wake up in the morning,’ he says.

A farmer named Fisher adds:

He says he uses CBD products to relieve stress and help him sleep, adding: ‘I didn’t know until recently that I could take four of those gummies and get high. I’m glad I didn’t know that. It’s nothing I want to try.’

Ultimately, as with certain other products produced by Amish, it looks like people will fall back on the “it’s not my responsibility how others use it” position – or as Fisher puts it: “What people choose to do with it is not really our concern.”

Lancaster County branding

As a side note, Lancaster County Cannabis is another interesting look at branding in Amish business. While some Amish businesses avoid pointing out their Amish ownership, not all of them are that way. Amish entrepreneurs know that it’s a selling point; it’s just about how comfortable individuals are with emphasizing that aspect of the business’s identity.

It appears Lancaster County Cannabis is not exactly shy about it, but doesn’t trumpet the word “Amish” either.

For example, the business’s website homepage greets visitors with the description: “Amish Grown Premium CBD and Delta-8 Products”. The first line of the “About” page also notes the owner’s Amish identity: “Lancaster County Cannabis/Lancaster County Marketing LLC is a small, Amish-owned business that supports farmers right here in the heart of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.”

The front page of Lancaster County Cannabis’ online store

At the same time, there is another term at work here. “Lancaster County” has become a synonym of sorts for “Amish”. Maybe synonym is not the exact term – but it’s shorthand that evokes associations with the Amish – just like “buggy”, “shoefly” and “Pennsylvania Dutch”.

Naming your company “Lancaster County” this or that (and especially if you include a yellow Amish buggy sign in the logo, like this one does) is one way to suggest Amish products, ties or ownership.

A Hemp Future for Amish in Lancaster County?

For the growers, hemp farming offers things that immediately appeal to the Amish farm family: a labor-intensive product which requires manual help (ie, work for Amish children) and which provides a good supplemental income. As a hemp farmer with the last name Stoltzfus puts it, describing his two young children:

‘They’re all about hemp,’ he says. ‘It’s the greatest thing to them because they get to work alongside dad and see how everything is done. It teaches them good work ethic.’

Hemp is also described as providing a better return than dairy farming. If that’s the case, you can see how this niche practice could continue to grow among Lancaster Amish (if not among Amish in other communities).

And when you stack it against farming of tobacco, a product with pretty much only negative health effects, you can see how the case would be made. Stoltzfus is described as believing this monetary reality could be “key in heralding a long-term shift from cows to cannabis in the community”.

Hemp farming is still just a minority practice among Amish, though the potential market is large. And while it’s still hard to imagine hemp fields replacing dairy herds in Lancaster Amish Country…many things that are now reality were also once hard to imagine.

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    8 Comments

    1. Ann the Least

      CBD problematic

      It is important to remember that CBD has not been through any safety or efficacy testing and any evidence for safety or efficacy is hearsay. I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

    2. Denise

      Amish & CBD

      Very enlightening article. I was surprised but then again, the preference for natural medicine seems right in line with Amish thinking.

    3. Walter Boomsma

      Thinking...

      Definitely an article that can make one think. To the Amish’s credit, they seem to understand that few things are innately evil–it is the use or abuse that makes them so. That’s something many English people don’t quite get. We tend to give too much credit to the substance or product and rush to ban them. There is some irony in the fact that many Englisch accuse the Amish of thinking that photos, electricity, etc., are “evil,” when, in fact, most Amish are more concerned with the effect using the item might have. Riehl demonstrates that when he describes his own relationship with the product. There might be some things to think about here.

      1. Erik Wesner

        Good point as it tends to be more nuanced and thoughtful than the sometimes simplistic non-Amish assumptions about Amish behaviors and motives would have it.

    4. For Medicinal Purposes?

      If they only sold the cream or ointment, then I wouldn’t have an issue with it. However, smoking, lollipops, and gummies are another thing. You even quoted in your post that someone said they discovered that they could get high by consuming too many gummies. My personal opinion…ditch the vapes, cigarettes, gummies, and lollipops.

      There are many other natural remedies that can help you sleep and/or relieve stress. You don’t need something that can change the way your brain works.

      1. Erik Wesner

        This is a good point as the things that come in “fun” packages (candy, cigarettes, etc.) are harder to sell as “medicinal”. Though I would imagine that removing those items would put a heavy dent in sales.

    5. J.O.B.

      This is Lancaster. Many Amish here know very well how to use these gummies, vapes, and so on. Saying the right things about walking that line with a wink wink.

      You are correct in pointing out that Lancaster County is synonymous with the Amish. No doubt the business name was chosen for that reason. A hint, as you pointed out, is the Amish buggy in the corner of the website.

      The names Amish, Lancaster County, along with images of horse and buggy, are used by some Amish the same way shoe companies or soda companies use their logos. Again, some are trying to walk that line when promoting themselves with a wink wink.

      A business like this usually exists because the people involved in it have past experience with cannabis. Since this is Lancaster, I’m not surprised.

      It’s a good example how some Amish are changing and how this change affects their businesses. Certain lines they would not cross in the past, are now being blurred or erased. Not taking sides on this issue. I have mixed feelings on it.

      1. Erik Wesner

        I don’t have a particular side in this either- the biggest thing that jumps out to me in this story is the irony of a “drug-adjacent” product being most readily or visibly adopted in the community where the highest-profile and most traumatic encounter Amish have ever had with drugs took place, and which occurred in fairly recent memory (the above-mentioned Amish/Pagans motorcycle gang drug bust of 1998).

        At the same time, 25 years have passed and economic pressures are a reality.