More than 3,800 licenses to grow as much as 51,000 acres of hemp were issued across the state in 2019, an increase from 226 licenses in 2018, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. At least 51 of those current license holders listed an address in Southwest Nashville on their application.
The Federal Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as House Resolution 2642, allowed the TDA to initiate a pilot research program into the growth of the hemp plant, according to TDA spokesperson William Freeman. The next iteration of the bill, the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, removed hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, which officials said allowed for mass production.
On Oct. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its draft guidelines for how the USDA and states will regulate hemp under the 2018 farm bill. The USDA said the interim guidelines will become final after it considers revisions following a 60-day public comment period ending Dec. 30.
While the TDA is advising growers to continue operating under the current state regulations, officials said they are reviewing the draft to determine how it effects Tennessee’s hemp program.
“The federal law supersedes state law, and we will be able to advise growers on how to stay compliant with what the federal rules are,” TDA Policy Director David Waddell said.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of more than 80 compounds, or cannabinoids, that can be extracted from hemp plants, according to the USDA.
CBD products, such as oils, lotions and supplements, are claimed to engage with receptors in the endocannabinoid system—a network of receptors throughout the body that is said to influence pain relief—according to Lainey Maples, owner of CBD store Native Plant.
Maples said that while customers are primarily seeking products to help with anxiety, chronic pain and sleeping troubles, some people have reported CBD helps with other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We don’t take it lightly that people are coming in for their health,” Maples said. “We’ve done a ton of research in what we carry, and [we] do third-party testing, so we know what’s in every product as well as where it grows and how it’s grown.”
In conjunction with several other state departments, the Tennessee Department of Health issued a public health and safety advisory in September 2018 to warn citizens that evidence is still inconclusive regarding the health benefits of cannabis-based products, including CBD.
While multiple local health organizations declined to comment on matters regarding CBD, retailers said they have noticed some customers are shopping for products based on their medical doctors’ recommendations.
“We recently had a customer in the store who knew something was wrong and was trying to figure it out with her pulmonary doctor, who recommended she consider seeking out high-quality CBD until they could pinpoint what was wrong,” Maples said.
Ongoing regulation talks
To further understand hemp production and consumerism in Tennessee, state lawmakers in April approved a 12-member task force to study these issues before the legislative session begins in January.
While lawmakers at the first meeting Oct. 15 did not say whether they would address legislation regarding the growing of hemp or the sale of CBD products, members said they would like for prospective consumers to know what they are purchasing at stores in Tennessee.
“I’m experiencing [it] in my neighborhoods where there are unregulated edibles and gummies, and my concern is that people are buying these products without knowing exactly what’s in them,” state Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said.
Dr. Ying Wu, a food scientist and assistant professor at Tennessee State University, helped launch a hemp research program at the university in 2018. The program, which is exploring different hemp varieties to discover which is best suited for Tennessee farmers, is also trying to answer questions related to CBD products, Wu said.
“As food scientists, we can recognize the needs from consumers that they need more CBD products and stakeholders have expressed the desire to market their products,” Wu said. “Nowadays, CBD products have a lot of issues and questions regarding what health benefits they have and what kind of levels we can use in products and potential safety issues for consumers.”
The task force will conduct conversations with growers, researchers and members of law enforcement before submitting a report to the general assembly by Jan. 1, 2020.
“When we’re talking about regulation, we need to figure out how we best make sure the farmers and producers who are doing the right thing don’t have to go through hoops to get their products to market,” Love said. “Secondly, those who are not bringing in these good products should not be allowed to place these things on the shelves.”