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VOL. 43 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 28, 2019

Tennessee’s favorable hemp laws help entrepreneurs get into the game

By Tom Wood

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Jake and Kate Ducey, left, owners of The Holistic Connection in Cool Springs, with Mike Solomon owner of Tri-Star Medical.

-- Photo By Tom Wood | The Ledger

Full spectrum is a term one often hears regarding the strength of CBD oil, one of the popular extracts derived from hemp. Simply put, it means the product has everything in the cannabis plant – all the cannabinoids and terpenes but no more than 0.3 percent THC – that can provide therapeutic relief to users.

But that phrase might also be used to describe the gulf between Mike Solomon and Ben Dixon, who are at opposite ends of the hemp industry spectrum.

Solomon is both a licensed Tennessee hemp grower and an extractor who previously was a licensed medical cannabis grower in California, while Dixon is a Nashville horror filmmaker and theater owner who is seriously contemplating the idea of becoming a hemp farmer.

“We just bought 11 acres of land up in Carthage, and we’ve been doing a lot of research and stuff,” says Dixon, who owns Full Moon Cineplex and Lone Wolf Tattoo in Hermitage with his wife, Stacey.

“We’ve got the business where we could also do the retail of CBD oil and everything here. As of right now we’re just trying to be educated more. I think there’s a lot of people right now trying to get the right facts and requirements of the state.”

Dixon’s correct about more people looking to join the hemp industry. The Tennessee Hemp Program, operated by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, began in 2015 with just 49 licensed growers statewide. In 2018, there were 226 growers, and this year there are more than 2,900 – a tenfold increase.

“I heard it was about 3,000 this year. I think we’ll see continuous growth just with the revenue per acre that farmers are getting back on hemp. We’re definitely going to see a boom for the next three to five years,” explains Solomon, who launched his flagship company Tri-Star Medical (not affiliated with the TriStar hospital group) in 2018 and more recently partnered with Kate and Jake Ducey to open The Holistic Connection alternative health store in Cool Springs.

“Tennessee has some of the best hemp laws in America. Really, really good pro-farmer laws. The legislation here in Tennessee has so far, since 2014, has really looked out for the farmer – and continues to look out for the farmer,” Solomon, a 2004 University of Tennessee graduate, adds.

Kate Dulcey is also a licensed grower, but she and her husband Jake agree their future lies in “branding and making products on the retail side” of the industry.

“We love the science behind it and we think that you can actually patent the formulations, and there’s so much that you can do with it. Anything from just helping people and the sustainability and what’s best for the earth. It’s just an all-encompassing passion,” Kate says.

“Mike, Kate and I have been dreaming of this project for quite some time now,” Jake told a crowd at the June 13 grand opening of their store. “We’ve really set out to create a place for people to come learn and also heal. We want to educate the community on what CBD and holistic care is and how it might be able to change your lives.”

Their business is just one of the latest to start selling CBD products across the region. Do a Google search for CDB in Nashville and you’ll find specialty stores like LabCanna East, Nashville Hemp, Music City Hemp, CBD Solutions. But you’ll also find CBD products at Turnip Truck grocery stores, gift shops like Mill Creek Mercantile in Donelson, and big-box stores like CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.

Solomon likes to use coffee as an analogy to describe the difference between hemp and marijuana.

“Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis. So, if cannabis is the word ‘coffee,’ then the word ‘marijuana’ is caffeinated, and the word ‘hemp’ is decaf. That is the best way to put it,” Solomon explains.

“They both have a lot of the same cannabinoids. If I had both a cup of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee in front of you, they’re both black, they’re both hot and they both probably taste the same. But if you chugged one, 10 minutes later you’re going to feel something. And if chugged another one, you’re not.

“So, in a lot of aspects – obviously, we’re not growing the same stuff as (California but), it still is a cannabis plant – so a lot of it is similar but it’s definitely decaf.”

Dr. Eric Walker, an assistant professor for plant sciences at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, says the state’s hemp industry launched in 2014 with the idea of cultivating the crop for fiber and grain, and didn’t take off until last year when the Tennessee Department of Agriculture permitted non-certified varieties of hemp to be grown.

“That was a game-changer. It was almost like we started over in 2018,” acknowledges Walker, whose responsibilities include tobacco and industrial hemp.

“By allowing non-certified genetics, what that did is we could look at other uses of the hemp plant. Since 2014-15, there were some people, a small group throughout the United States and some in Tennessee, that weren’t looking at producing hemp for fiber or grain or seed; they were looking at producing hemp for cannabinoids for extract. And what these people found out is that … there are cannabinoids like CBD that are non-psychoactive.

“There are (medical and scientific) papers out there (reporting) where CBD has some medical effect on some conditions. The one that was really made popular was the effect of CBD on some people with conditions where they had lots of seizures.”

And that’s what drives the Duceys and like-minded individuals to enter the CBD market.

“Ultimately, we think that the sweet spot for us is going to be on the extraction and making products and the retail side,” Jake Ducey says.

“It’s one thing to be out there on the farm and growing stuff all day, but it’s another thing to be able to sit here and actually talk to somebody who can tell personal stories about how much it’s changed their life.”

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