East Tennessee’s hemp pioneers

Meet East Tennessee's hemp pioneers. A Knoxville Mercury cover story by Clay Duda.Tucked in the hollows of Cocke County about an hour east of Knoxville, where rolling Tennessee hills meet the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains, Charles Mason has turned his lush-green farmland into a testing ground.

“When I first heard about it, well, I guess I just looked at dollar signs,” Mason says with a smooth, Southern drawl. “If it yields what it’s supposed to, I feel it could be a good cash crop for a lot of people, and maybe it’s something that can help my son maintain the farm.”

Mason is growing one of the state’s first legal industrial hemp crops in more than 70 years. That’s right, weed’s cousin is now legal in Tennessee—at least for industrial farming and use in manufactured goods, with plenty of restrictions attached.

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>> Photo gallery: Hemp takes root in Tennessee