RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A business which plans to sell tea with a mild psychoactive effect is facing some trouble opening in Richmond because it says the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) denied the necessary permits.

KavaClub wants to sell tea made from the kava plant to potential costumers but has been unable to get a business permit. The bar now sits with its doors shut and chairs empty inside. Co-founder Fred Bryant said this is a heartbreaking reality to face.  

“It’s an entrepreneur’s worst dream, you know, it’s your art and you put everything into it,” Bryant said. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, kava is a plant that has a mild psychoactive effect on its users when brewed.

Bryant says the tea tends to have a calming feeling and helps reduce anxiety, and its available right down the street at places like gas stations and vape shops. That’s because kava itself is legal in Virginia. 

The roadblock they’re hitting, according to KavaClub’s attorney Justin Earley, is that they area trying to sell it in a drink form inside the bar. He said this is because the state is trying to classify it as a food additive, which KavaClub say it isn’t.   

“The Department of Health is telling us that when we brew them in their natural form, which is the safest and traditional way to serve it, that we can’t do that, that it is actually illegal and that is unsafe,” Earley said.  

Bryant said his dream was to create a non-alcoholic bar in the city that people could enjoy, but that dream is being crushed. He said when it came time to get their permit, the Virginia Department of Health declined them.  

After going back and forth with the agency since February, they have now filed a motion to reverse the decision.   

“This experience has just been shocking in a lot of levels and just personally devastating, professionally devastating,” Bryant said.  

When requesting a statement, the VDH referred 8News to the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, who said they can’t comment while the legal process is ongoing. RHHD added that it is their duty to “ensure food safety and protect the health of Richmond and Henrico residents.” 

Bryant said this battle has had a major impact on his business, but he’s not going to give up easily.   

“When you know the law, follow the law, you hire experts to review the law ahead of time and you’re ready to go and you just have the state just is using its power to crush you, that’s not a great feeling,” Bryant said. 

Bryant said their next day in court will be Tuesday, Sept. 12.