In Overton Park, the de facto annual meeting place of many who partake in 4/20 cheer, vendors participated Saturday in the first Mid-South HempFest, a festival aimed at education, not just inhalation.
“After 70, 80 years of propaganda on some of the most racist, BS reasons that don’t stand the test of time, you have to have events like this to get mass information out there, so people aren’t afraid of a plant,” Lee Otts, one of the festival organizers, said.
Following the passage of a 2018 Farm Bill, licensed farmers can grow and distribute strains of cannabis that contain less that .3-percent THC, which classifies their crop as industrial hemp.
“You got people who call it ‘The Devil’s Lettuce,’” Otts said. “They think it’s an evil plant, when there are so many medicinal benefits.”
Otts broke his neck in 2012. Since then, he said cannabis has offered him relief.
Otts isn’t alone.
Numerous vendors of locally crafted hemp-related products flocked to the festival to set up booths with their wares. Several of them said their stories began with injuries or other impairments in their families.
There’s Satina Campbell of South Main CBD (a common term used to denote “cannabidiol,” an extract of hemp plants), whose store front is expected to open in the coming weeks.
“Just like everyone else, we had a real reason (to get into this industry). My uncle had some nerve damage in a back injury and started taking (CBD) himself. And the results were just amazing,” Campbell said.
“We also had a real good experience with a pet, too. That’s why we have pet products and human products. It saved their lives.”
Amber Salmon began TN Roots CBD to aid her son, who lives with special needs.
“I went from having him on about 10 different medicines to having him on CBD and one other,” she said.
She touts her products with the tagline, “901 Soil to Oil,” boasting that she only buys local hemp.
“I know that there were lots of good product, but I didn’t want to order it online. I didn’t want to not know where it was coming from,” she said.”
“Our focus is to educate the special needs community and our local area. I don’t have a website. I’m all about person-to-person, local sales, promoting Memphis, and educating, changing stigmas.”
The variety of hemp-infused products available at the expo was vast.
“You could do oil, alcohol, fibers, cloth, paper, all the plastics that biodegrade. It’s such a beneficial plant,” Otts said.
Vendors at the event didn’t just stop there.
There were hemp cookies and cakes, hemp candles, hemp-inspired clothing items. To beat the sun, festival goers could sample hemp ice cream and drink some freshly-brewed hemp sweet tea.
Next to his teas, Tyler Taylor of Phamily Pharms had hemp joints that looked like weed, but qualified as industrial hemp.
“Now you have a weird gray area, legally, because a drug dog will hit on this just like they would on pot. So, I guess officers are going to have to test,” Taylor said.
Taylor is a Memphian, who grew legal marijuana in Oregon. When he returned, a friend asked him if he wanted to jump into hemp.
He had no clue what was possible.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’ve been growing weed for years, and I didn’t know this. So, I can only assume the average consumer has no idea what the difference is.’”
His farm is in Lauderdale County. Taylor said neighbors have been pretty curious about his operation.
“We get the misconceptions where we are, when we’re growing it. We’re in a very small town, very conservative. Everyone knows what we’re doing. I’ve been out at the gas station and someone will be like, ‘Y’all are the guys out there growing marijuana on (the highway).’ I’m like, ‘Hey! We are not growing marijuana. You gotta use a different word. It’s hemp.’”
Taylor said many of his customers are excited by his strands of legal bud, but he’s found that the less psychoactive version of cannabis is actually closer to the nature of the plant.
“I think what a lot of people are realizing is that hemp was probably the first cannabis,” he said. “Over the past hundreds of years, people started selectively breeding for higher and higher THC content. The THC went up (then), it’s not going down (now).
“We’re not doing anything new. This is what Jefferson was growing at Monticello. Everyone’s talking about this ‘new industry.’ But, nah, man, we’re going back to something that we’ve been doing forever.”