Regulating Tennessee’s growing hemp industry

Special Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee has become one of the top producers of hemp in the country.

With that growth has come regulation change in just four years of the program.

Hemp, once a thriving crop in Tennessee, made its comeback after the 2014 Federal Farm Bill legalized industrial production.

“We’ve seen gradual growth throughout our program history, but over the past year there’s been quite the jump at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s hemp program,” said Will Freeman, Spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Four years later, the pilot research program saw a big change.

“With the 2018 Farm Bill, that allowed us to change our program from a pilot research program into a normal crop program like you’d see with other crops,” said Freeman.

Farmers like Joe Kirkpatrick, President of the Tennessee Hemp Industries Association, said this change has been a game changer.

“We went from 14 pages to four,” said Kirkpatrick. “That’s unprecedented in regulatory history for rules to be reduced.”

The 2018 Farm Bill also took hemp off the list of federally controlled substances, opening the door yet again.

Just months later, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) expanded the application period to grow hemp to year-round.

But the TDA also required moving permits beyond transporting living plants to harvested material.

“They should have a movement permit which helps us, the grower, and law enforcement keep an eye on hemp that’s being moved across throughout the state,” said Freeman.

At the State Capitol, efforts to further regulate the new industry saw some success, like banning the sale of any smokable hemp to a minor.

“Children don’t get to decide whether they can smoke or not,” said Kirkpatrick. “It’s just that simple.”

But efforts to clarify confusion between CBD and its close cousin marijuana still remain in limbo.

“What we don’t want is people getting arrested incorrectly. We don’t want people taken into the drug court system,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick said one solution will be on-the-road drug testing kits for law enforcement.

“We want to get testing kits funded,” he said.

Two, a 6.6 percent tax for smokable hemp.

“We would want the tax money to be allocated to the department of agriculture, not to the general fund,” said Kirkpatrick. “Sustainable agriculture also has to be profitable to the farmer to be sustainable, and hemp is in a unique position to do that.”

Kirkpatrick said those ideas are on the table for the 2020 legislative session.

Until then, cannabis supporters like State Rep. Janice Bowling said education is key to clear up confusion — her idea is a coalition of hemp growers and medical cannabis supporters.

“We’re going to show that this product is legitimate in 34 states, this product is legitimate in America. Hemp is already legal,” said Sen. Bowling.

All day Thursday, Linda Ong has special reports in every newscast investigating Tennessee’s Hemp Surge.

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