Last Friday the Agriculture Committee of the NC House of Representatives passed an amendment to the NC Farm Act of 2019 that could have a severe impact on hemp farmers.  The previous version of the bill, passed by the NC Senate on June 17 in a 31-14 vote, contained a provision that would ban smokable hemp starting December 2020.  The amendment that the House Agriculture Committee approved moved the starting date for the ban on smokable hemp up to December 1, 2019. Also as part of the amendment, smokable hemp will now be classified as marijuana, and a Schedule VI controlled substance under NC law.  This classification under the NC Farm Act is in contrast with the 2018 Federal Farm Bill which explicitly removed hemp and hemp products, including smokable hemp, from the Federal Controlled Substance Act and the Federal definition of marijuana.

Concerns of law enforcement were the driving force behind the Agriculture Committee’s decision to vote in favor of the amendment.  Several law enforcement officials stated that without the ban marijuana would effectively be legalized in NC due to smokable hemp’s similarity in look and smell to it.  The opinion repeatedly voiced by law enforcement officials at the hearing was that the similarity in look and smell of smokable hemp to marijuana makes probable cause for marijuana searches hard to establish, which in turn they argued makes the arrest and prosecution of marijuana possession almost impossible.

The ban poses a major financial issue for farmers seeking to participate in the booming hemp market.  Smokable hemp is much more profitable for farmers to grow as opposed to growing hemp that is only used for CBD extraction.  Hemp industry insiders at the hearing informed the committee that smokable hemp can sell for as much as $800-$1000 a pound whereas hemp used for CBD extract sells closer to $40 a pound.  Some farmers testified to the committee that growing hemp has become a viable and profitable alternative to more traditional crops such as tobacco, but the ban would detrimentally impact farmers’ ability to profit off the lucrative new cash crop.  As a result, there was a concern voiced by hemp growers that the ban will take back the progress they have madField of Hempe.

The amended NC Farm Act does not only affect farmers but also retailers, manufactures, advertisers, and processors.  The current version of the NC Farm Act mandates that before anybody can hold, process, manufacture, package, label, or sell cannabinoid-related compounds, including CBD products, they must apply for a license to do so and be approved by the Commission. The bill also authorizes for regulations on how CBD products are labeled, packaged, delivered, and stored.

The bill will now go to the House’s Judicial Committee and will still have to go through more committees after that before the Senate and House will have to agree on a version of the NC Farm Act before it can be signed and become law.

For updates on the bill as it moves forward be sure to check back here.

Ellis Martin