By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

A combination of changing laws, consumer demand and favorable growing conditions have many Tennessee farmers toying with the idea of raising industrial hemp especially since the Tennessee Department of Agriculture has made big changes to its hemp program.
“Farmers have been growing and researching this crop in Tennessee since the program began in 2015 as a pilot program,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher, D.V.M. said. “The hemp industry and federal laws have changed in recent years, and we’re updating our program rules to be more consistent with how other crop programs are managed.”
Hemp producers are now able to apply for a license to grow the crop year-round and where the application period used to last for three months, from mid-November to mid-February.
The change means prospective growers can now apply whenever they want. Any person who grows hemp in Tennessee, however, regardless of the quantity, is required to have a hemp grower license.
Hemp, an incredibly versatile and sustainable plant, had played an essential role in history dating back to the colonial years when it was exported to England where it was used for clothing, shoes, maps, books, ship’s rigging, parachute webbing, baggage, sails, and tents.
Hemp remained a staple well after the United States earned its independence; however, most American history books contain no mention of hemp because of its close association with marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are both members of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L, which can contain a wide spectrum of cannabinoid concentrations.
In 1937, the U.S. government passed the Marijuana Tax Act, essentially barring the cultivation, sale, and possession of the entire cannabis genus. The act made no distinction between hemp and marijuana, grouping all varietals under a single designation.
Historically, industrial hemp has been regarded primarily as an agricultural crop valued for fiber and grain. Hemp fiber is used to make textiles, building materials, animal bedding, mulch, paper, industrial products, and biofuels. Hemp grain, or seed, is used in the food and feed products, and oil from the seed is used to make personal care products and industrial products, including paints, solvents, and lubricants.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has licensed more than 2,900 hemp growers in 2019 as compared to the 226 hemp producer applications received by the agency in 2018. Some are suggesting this might be the crop to replace tobacco, which was a mainstay income for many small farmers not too long ago, but there remains a great deal of confusion and misinformation surrounding hemp especially since it is dogged by regulatory confusion and unclear terminology.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other related compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant.”
Virtually all of the health care products derived from the cannabis plant center around Cannabidiol (CBD) oil and hemp oil.
Each is used and sold as natural health remedies. CBD, which is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants, does not produce intoxication. Marijuana’s “high” is caused by the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Presently in Tennessee, the cultivation and possession of marijuana are prohibited, and both the recreational and medicinal uses of marijuana are illegal. As of mid-July, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture reports only one licensed hemp grower in Johnson County.