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NC House leader is the new president of a CBD, hemp company

In this 2015 file photo, Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, holds his daughter Averi as he greets lawmakers during the opening session of the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh, N.C.
Gerry Broome
/
AP
In this 2015 file photo, Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, holds his daughter, Averi, as he greets lawmakers during the opening session of the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh. Bell has become the president of a start-up company manufacturing CBD and hemp products.

As state lawmakers consider new regulations for CBD and hemp products, House Majority Leader John Bell has become the president of a startup company manufacturing those products.

Bell said his new role leading Nashville-based Asterra Labs is part of his work at private equity firm Rise Capital, which owns the hemp company. Previous CEO Kevin Sills, who was appointed by House Speaker Tim Moore to the UNC-Wilmington Board of Trustees in 2022, is no longer with the company.

"It's a very interesting, fascinating world," Bell told WUNC. "What we do is manufacturing, and then we have a retail side. I've been in sales forever in some way, shape or form. And so this is the opportunity that the board (of Rise Capital) gave me and said, 'Hey, look, go see what you can do.' And so my goal is to grow the company and get it to profitability, hire a bunch of people, and be a successful company."

In his new role, Bell said he sees the need for the legislature to pass further regulations for CBD and hemp products.

Back in September, the House unanimously passed a bill to regulate the sale of "hemp-derived consumable products," which would require licenses to sell the products and ban sales to people under age 18. The products would need to contain less than 0.3% THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The Senate did not take action on the bill before the legislature adjourned for the year.

Since his company could be impacted by new regulations, Bell said he'll likely seek an ethical opinion on whether he'd need to recuse himself from votes if the bill comes up again.

The legislature is also considering legalizing medical marijuana, a measure that stalled in the House last year. However, Bell said Asterra Labs is not involved in marijuana.

"To be perfectly honest with you, the cannabis industry wants to get rid of the CBD industry so they can take market share," he said.

Bell has been a board member at Rise Capital since 2020. The company was founded by Greenville businessman Harry Smith, who served as chairman of the UNC Board of Governors from 2018 to 2019.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.