Gone to pot: Inside Nashville’s booming CBD industry

Gone to pot: Inside Nashville’s booming CBD industry | Soho House

Hemp is big business in Music City, thanks to the fertile minds of local entrepreneurs… and the fertile soil of the Volunteer State

Tuesday 16 August 2022 By Margaret Littman   Photography by Eva Kolenko

If you’ve been in Nashville a while, you’ve likely heard that Tennessee’s capital city is ‘the buckle of the Bible belt’, smack bang in the middle. But Nashville is also the centre of the green belt, described as ‘the holy grail of growing in the world’ by Frederick Cawthon, president of the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee and owner of several businesses centered around hemp and CBD. 

Because Tennessee is one of the 31 states where marijuana is not yet legal, many assume that hemp, CBD and other cannabinoids are not thriving in Nashville. But thanks to the lush growing climate, a history of growing hemp, support of agriculture and agritourism and the passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014 (aka the Farm Bill), ‘Nashville is the Garden of Eden’ when it comes to hemp, says Cawthon.

Quick primer: ¬marijuana and hemp are both forms of cannabis. Marijuana contains THC and is an illegal Schedule I drug in Tennessee. However, the state was the very first in the US to legalise smokable hemp and an early adopter in legalising consumption of products with CBD. ‘We have some of the most progressive laws in the country in regards to hemp,’ explains Cawthon.

In addition to his hemp trade association work and consulting to the cannabis industry, Cawthon also runs two hemp-industry businesses, including Radical Labs, which makes cannabinoid gummies, cereal bars, and other edibles. He participated in an information session about CBD and other cannabinoids at Soho House Nashville on 20 April (420) and since then says people come up to him in the House and say, ‘that’s the cannabis guy’.

He doesn’t mind his nickname because it reflects his life’s work. Cawthon first became interested in cannabis after his mother was diagnosed with dementia. He believes use of cannabis products helped extend her life and improve her quality of life for several years. She has since passed, but her legacy, through him, is to help others. ‘I’m just out here trying to figure out “how do we normalise and destigmatise this plant that God gave us?”,’ he says.

So, when Soho House Nashville’s membership manager Jacy Bruck asked if he wanted to sponsor one of the monthly Pot Head Paint Club sessions she leads, he jumped at the chance. The name made him laugh, he says, and it was another opportunity to discuss hemp, CBD, Delta-8, THC, and other cannabis specifics with the community.

Pot Head Paint Club, one of the House’s most popular ongoing events, was born out of one of Bruck’s pandemic pastimes. Members come together to listen to music in a meditative group environment. Then, they paint terracotta flowerpots, which are sealed and ready to be planted. 

‘It really taps into a childhood activity,’ says Bruck of the Pot Head Paint Club popularity. Each month’s session is sponsored by a different CBD or hemp-related business, including Radical Labs and Perfect Plant Hemp Co. Bruck has had no

problem finding sponsors since the Nashville area has so many related businesses. 

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, there are hemp farmers in all but two of Tennessee’s 95 counties, with more than 2,000 statewide. Gold Standard Farms produces organic hemp from its boutique farm, whereas Yuyo Botanics combines cannabinoids with plant botanicals for its range of tinctures and topicals. The lines from the woman-owned business include products for pets as well as people: CBD tinctures and drops have become popular with pet owners wanting to help dogs and cats who have fears of thunderstorms and other everyday occurrences or, like people, are facing aches and pains as they age. Zennessee Organics’ wellness products include bath bombs and body oil, and the focus at Canvast Supply Co is non-THC cannabinoids you can smoke.

The plethora of Tennessee hemp-related businesses doesn’t mean starting or running one is easy, though.

Pastry chef Lokelani Alabanza always had an interest in plant-based dishes. When she lost her job with a local creamery during the pandemic, she combined that passion with her professional experience. The result was Saturated Ice Cream, a line of hemp-derived CBD ice creams with flavours that draw inspiration from historic recipes and culinary traditions. 

And it’s been popular. From the very beginning, Alabanza was selling more ice cream – at pop-ups and through collaborations with other chefs – than she expected. With all the success, ‘there have been a lot of roadblocks,’ she concedes. She spent months just trying to get a bank account, as many banks are limited in what industries they can serve (the Controlled Substances Act is a federal act that prohibits banking transactions in federally illegal activities). 

She’s achieved one of her dreams, too – writing a cookbook, which will be published in 2023. And, next up, another dream (albeit smaller): hosting an ice cream social. The Soho House Nashville event will include a mixture of CBD and non-CBD flavours and, if everything goes according to plan, both scoopable and soft-serve ice cream. She hopes it will capture some of that traditional wonder an ice cream social can provide and also introduce people to the world of edibles without the scarlet letter that sometimes comes with it.

‘I never intended to create something to cure or fix anything,’ says Alabanza. ‘My intent was to bring people joy.’ 

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