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VOL. 46 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 28, 2022

Yes, you can buy cannabis in Tennessee, but will it get you high?

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Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with what is and isn’t legal. Or at least it is for me. For instance: Marijuana, from the plant cannabis sativa, is illegal in Tennessee. Possession of even small amounts can land you in jail for up to a year. That’s because a chemical compound in the plant – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – is psychoactive.

Which is to say, it can get you high. Stoned. Baked. Whatever. And Southern lawmakers tend to officially frown on mind-altering substances, unless they come in bottles or cans.

Yet here in Nashville, you can buy products containing THC and have them delivered right to your door in just about an hour.

I know that because good investigative journalism requires research, especially when starting from a base level of ignorance. Unlike many in my age cohort – which includes, but is not limited to, former hippies – I do not have extensive experience with marijuana.

Nor have I followed developments on the cannabis front closely, other than to know that a goodly number of other states have legalized it for recreational and/or medical use.

So, there was much for me to learn. For starters: Marijuana and hemp are two names for the same cannabis plant. The difference is that marijuana contains more than 0.3% THC by weight.

Also learned: THC doesn’t come in just one variety. Marijuana’s wallop relies on Delta 9 THC. But there are also Delta 8 and Delta 10. They’re known as isomers, for reasons I would probably understand if I hadn’t dropped out of high school chemistry. I think 8 and 10 have to be extracted or converted or derived or something like that, but, again, chemistry dropout. Don’t know.

In any event, Delta 8 and Delta 10 products drive what appears to be a thriving business: A lot of places in Nashville – and, I assume, to some degree elsewhere across the state – sell a mind-numbing array of cannabis-derived products.

Many are edibles; some are for vaping. A few are meant to be consumed in the old-fashioned, hippie-approved way: smoking.

Here’s a description that caught my eye for one of those: “It smells like an expensive peppery cheese with a hint of diesel fuel.” I’m not sure how that is supposed to drive sales. But the description also says it is “highly sought after for its relaxing and mood boosting effects.”

Research also took me to a cannabis purveyor a mile or so from my house, LabCanna. There I spoke to the CEO, Derek Besenius, who later also answered questions I sent him via email.

He explained how his business, and others like it, became legal. Short answer (which, as I often remind my wife, is the only one I’m interested in):

“Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which lifted the controlled substance designation for hemp and all its extracts except for Delta 9 THC, which must be in a concentration of less than .3% on a dry-weight basis.”

Some background here. Hemp was legal in the early days of this country and was used for a variety of products. That ended with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1938, which treated both hemp and marijuana as controlled substances.

I seem to recall that, back in the day, the people who argued for relegalizing hemp were playing up the non-mind-altering possibilities, suggesting that we’d all soon be wearing hemp clothing and sleeping on hemp sheets and driving hemp cars on hemp highways to hemp cities.

Somewhat along those lines, Besenius wanted “to highlight the vast therapeutic potential of all cannabinoids and other compounds in cannabis.” Fair enough. But I zeroed in on the psychoactive effects, and asked him how the various Delta THCs compared.

“The isomers of THC are just now being researched for a multitude of reasons, so the information we have is fairly subjective,” he says. “Many consumers report Delta 8 and Delta 10 intoxicating properties as 50% to 80% as potent as Delta 9, with far less paranoia than many people experience.”

I can confirm those assessments, and further report that users should also expect the munchies. Keep some cookies or candy on hand.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery of my research was that, rather than trying to clamp down on the cannabis trade in Tennessee, legislators right now have a bill that would provide for licensing dealers, taxing products and limiting sales to those 21 and older.

Besenius called it “one of the better bills to be presented for the hemp/cannabis space in Tennessee.” Its provisions “are all great steps for consumer protection and promote thoughtful legislation for the industry in Tennessee,” he adds.

In fairness, I should mention that the FDA takes a dim view of Delta 8 products, noting they “have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context.” Make of that what you will.

As for me, I’m wondering if they’re powerful enough to finally make “The Big Lebowski” funny.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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