Is Weed Legal in Gatlinburg? How Café 420, Hemp Care Came to the Smokies

For curious onlookers, Tennessee Hemp Care's window display can be viewed on the main strip of Downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt,

For curious onlookers, Tennessee Hemp Care's window display can be viewed on the main strip of Downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Editor’s Note: You must be at least 18 years old to read this article. By continuing, you are confirming that you are of legal age.

It’s days like this that I wish I’d studied harder in chemistry or botany. In 2018, among the moonshine distilleries and the pancake houses, other purveyors of “illicit” substances began appearing in Tennessee, including Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. To be clear, you could always buy marijuana-adjacent products usually in the form of actual marijuana sold by a guy with Cocke County connections. Or my high school associate Williams, who preferred not to use his first name. But now, you can go into any number of CBD shops and choose from a wide array of products. On the surface, the items appear to be the sort of things that would get Williams in a lot of trouble. How are they able to do this? Well, it’s both incredibly simple and very, very complicated. Let’s start with the most obvious question …

Tennessee Hemp Care was Gatlinburg's first CBD & hemp dispensary (photo by Morgan Overholt/
Tennessee Hemp Care was Gatlinburg’s first CBD & hemp dispensary (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Is marijuana legal in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or anywhere else in Tennessee?

No. No, it is not. And despite the efforts of State Rep. Jeremy Faison who represents Cocke County, it is unlikely that Tennessee will legalize marijuana or even medicinal marijuana in the immediate future. So how you might reasonably ask, are these shops able to sell these marijuana-adjacent products?

You might be surprised to know it has a lot to do with the Farm Act of 2018. The Farm Act of 2018, which is like the Magna Carta for marijuana-adjacent products, drew a very important line in the sand. On one side of that line are products that contain more than .3% THC. These products, according to the Federal Government remain a Schedule I controlled substance and are very, very illegal in Tennessee.

What does that mean if I want to buy industrial hemp-based products from Tennessee Hemp Care or other shops?

It means you can walk in and purchase a wide variety of things from edibles, oils and candies. The people at explain that these products do not contain the potency of products sold in dispensaries in states in which marijuana or medicinal marijuana is legal.

Cafe 420 is another popular CBD & hemp dispensary in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (photo by Morgan Overholt/
Café 420 was another popular CBD & hemp dispensary in Gatlinburg, Tenn. (photo by Morgan Overholt/

Does smokable hemp work?

It depends on your definition of the word “work”. Smokable hemp contains very little THC, which is the part of the cannabis plant designed to make you laugh at Cheech and Chong movies. Some people claim a small high off of smokable hemp; others say that’s simply a placebo effect. If by “work” you mean does smokable hemp carry the same medicinal benefits as other, legal CBD products? Then, the jury remains out.

But I want to get high.

Well, my friend, you may be in luck. Welcome to the world of Delta 8, which sounds like a compound they tested on soldiers in ‘Nam. However, it is one of the natural chemicals contained in the cannabis plant. THC – the part of cannabis that makes it fun as discussed above – is also known as delta-9-tertrahydrocannabinol. This is the part of industrial hemp strictly regulated.

However, scientists working in the pursuit of loopholes have discovered that THC is not the only part of the cannabis plant that can make you high. They have discovered dozens of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Importantly, the chemicals are virtually unregulated and carry many of the well-known properties of the cannabis plant. That means THC’s close cousin, Delta 8 is slightly different from regular old THC. Yet it exists in a legal nebulous zone, like the place to which General Zod was banished in Superman II but arguably significantly cooler.

How is Delta 8 different from THC?

Experts indicate that Delta 8 carries a little better than half the psychoactive properties of THC. The upside is that while you won’t get as high with a Delta 8 product as traditional sticky-icky, it should be a smoother ride. It is also a preferable option for those who are infrequent users – also known as lightweights. The downside is there is a question of just how legal the process is. Delta 8 only exits as a minute portion of a cannabis plant. Therefore it takes quite a bit of manipulation to get it into a usable form.

“Most dried cannabis flower contains less than 1% of delta-8-THC. So getting a product that contains a substantial amount of this cannabinoid can only be done through extraction, isolation, conversion and refinement of dried cannabis flower,” representatives of Oleum Extracts explained to in 2018.

Synthetically altering CBD is the only cost-effective way to produce it in quantities that would make it profitable to sell. Joseph Hoelsccher, a founding member of the Texas Association of Cannabis Lawyers, recently told Rolling Stone magazine that the DOJ is aware of Delta 8. As a result, they are working on figuring out how to prosecute the cases. Still, for now, it is unlikely you’d face any legal repercussions for a Delta 8 product. That is as long as you weren’t operating a vehicle while impaired.

“Just as many jurisdictions struggled to build the infrastructure to correctly identify legal hemp, few can correctly establish, scientifically, how a sample of Delta-8-THC was sourced,” Hoelsccher told Rolling Stone. Another word of warning, if you are likely to be drug tested for marijuana, Delta 8 products are close enough to trigger a positive test.

I’m not necessarily looking to get high, but I wonder what CBD does medicinally.

The CBD craze started in 2018 after the U.S. FDA approved Epidiolex, the first drug containing CBD, used to treat two rare and severe types of childhood epilepsy. According to Hilary A. Marusak, of Wayne State University, this sets off a sharp rise in researching the possible medical applications of CBD.

In writing for The Conversation, Marusak said there is still much scientists don’t know about whether CBD can reduce stress and anxiety. “That said, as a neuroscientist who studies childhood anxiety disorders and the neurobiology of stress and anxiety, I am encouraged by some of the preliminary research,” she said. “For example, pre-clinical studies show that CBD can reduce fear and anxiety-related behaviors in mice. Neuroimaging studies in humans show that CBD can reduce activity in the amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex, brain regions associated with stress and anxiety. Yet more research must take place before we can be certain.”

That lack of certainty has not stopped a veritable cottage industry of CBD stores from popping up. Those products are very much on display at 420 Café and Tennessee Hemp Care. For example, there is a product called cbdMD Recover, in several different strengths. The product is purportedly for backaches, sore muscles and joint pain.

“Enriched with CBD, Arnica, Vitamin B6, and MSM for a full profile of topical properties, cbdMD’s CBD Recover Inflammation Cream was designed with one goal in mind: recovery. Every unique ingredient has a specific purpose: Arnica for white-cell stimulation, Vitamin B6 to repair inflammatory and arthritic damage and MSM for increased flexibility and absorption within cellular walls.” Yeah, I don’t know, either. But the strongest version of the stuff will set you back $184.99.

What does the neuroscientist have to say about that?

Dang it. I knew you were going to ask. Here we go, but we forewarned; I bet she’s fantastic at Scrabble.

“Evidence suggests that CBD may interact with the body’s own natural cannabinoid system – the endocannabinoid system – to boost levels of anandamide, the ‘bliss molecule,’ our body’s natural version of THC, perhaps changing the way people think and feel. And CBD may act with the body’s natural opioid system. This would explain some of the reported pain-relieving qualities. Yet with all of these potential effects, we still don’t understand how CBD works to alleviate pain, anxiety, inflammation and even epilepsy, the only disorder for which a drug containing CBD has been FDA-approved.

“In medicine, to see if something works, a randomized placebo-controlled trial is the gold standard. Several clinical trials are underway to see if CBD works for anxiety, COVID-19-induced stress, and the treatment of anxiety disorders – worldwide, the most common mental disorder. There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, which relates to excessive worrying about everyday life, and social anxiety disorder, which includes intense fear around social interactions. Symptoms of anxiety can also vary, including feeling tense, irritable or jumpy, and also feeling that your heart is racing, sweating, headaches, stomachaches and insomnia.”

Edibles are also available at Tennessee Hemp Care in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt)
Edibles are also available at Tennessee Hemp Care in downtown Gatlinburg (photo by Morgan Overholt)

Does she say anything else?

Yeah. There’s a whole part about Emperor Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine in 2700 B.C. using cannabis to treat over 100 different ailments. But maybe we should just skip to the end?

Yeah. Good idea.

“Researching CBD and other cannabis derivatives is also difficult. CBD products are currently unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This means CBD is not considered a dietary supplement and marketed CBD products cannot make any health-related claims,” Marusak writes. “This also means there’s no oversight on what’s in CBD products, which is why they are frequently mislabeled. This creates a ‘Wild West’ environment for consumers.”


Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

3 thoughts on “Is Weed Legal in Gatlinburg? How Café 420, Hemp Care Came to the Smokies”

  1. Government cronies don’t care how much people suffer with pain, as long as their own idiosyncrasies are served. Makes me furious!


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