NC Farm Act Provisions to Bolster Hemp Industry Worry Law Enforcement, ‘Essentially legalize Marijuna’

Henderson County Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Center research assistant Rob Anderson looks over hemp on the farm outside Fletcher.

RALEIGH – A budding hemp industry in North Carolina re-sprouted after federal regulators loosened rules, but those very buds have become a point of contention between two of the legislatures farming members.

The NC Farm Act of 2019 contains provisions to further regulate and bolster the nascent hemp industry in the Old North State, including delaying the ban on the sale of the smokable hemp flowers, which is the source of emergent and increasingly popular medicinal product CBD oil.

Senator Brent Jackson (R-Sampson), himself a farmer, hopes the provisions will act as fertilizer for the North Carolina hemp industry. The problem? The hemp plant is essentially cannabis; hemp flowers, or buds, while containing only a negligent amount of THC (the chemical that gets users ‘high’), are nearly indistinguishable from marijuana. That concerns law enforcement, and they want smokable hemp banned.

From WRAL:

“Law enforcement had called for such a ban repeatedly as the state’s annual Farm Act moved through the General Assembly, and dozens of officers, deputies and prosecutors attended a lengthy Friday morning meeting of the House Agriculture committee.

Their concern: Smokable hemp may not contain the THC that produces marijuana’s high, but it looks and smells just like marijuana. Allowing hemp growers and shops to sell the buds, along with oil extracts and other marketable products from the hemp plant, makes it nearly impossible to enforce the state’s marijuana laws, law enforcement said.

Several sheriffs testified Friday that, if smokable hemp is legal, they’d lose the probable cause that’s key to many drug busts. State officials are looking for a field test that can tell the difference between the cannabis cousins, and in fact plan to test one next week. But that process could take time, and as of now, “there is no validated field test,” said Eddie Caldwell, general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.”

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That worry has animated another farming state lawmaker, Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin), to back up law enforcement in opposing the Farm Act provisions that extend the window of legality for smokable hemp. He filed a bill in the committee mentioned above (which he chairs) to pull forward the date that smokable hemp is treated the same as marijuana, meaning possession of hemp flowers would be subject to the same legal penalties for possession of marijuana.

But Jackson notes that the hemp flower, that which is powering the growing CBD oil market, is the most profitable part of the plant. The gentleman farmers sparred over the issue this week.

More from WRAL:

“You might as well just throw up a flag to the United States and to the world that North Carolina does not welcome hemp farmers,” Jackson said. […]

“If you approve this … you’re not only banning smokable hemp, you’re banning CBD oil as well,” Jackson said.

“That is absolutely, irrevocably, provably false,” Dixon replied.

A legislative attorney weighed in, but didn’t fully lay the issue to rest. He said the new [Dixon] bill might ban cartridges of inhaled CBD oil, but “I’m not sure about the tinctures and creams.”

Obviously, a nearly identical looking and smelling plant is going to create some confusion for law enforcement, but is that a good enough reason to criminalize these hemp products? The reason marijuana is illegal, ostensibly, is because of it’s intoxicating affects. Criminalizing something that lacks these affects, yet merely looks like another illegal product, is a lazy approach to governance.

Marijuana laws should not exist simply for the purposes of creating probable cause so police can carry out searches and seizures. Law enforcement and prosecutors’ complaints that hemp/marijuana confusion makes it too hard for them to establish such probable cause, and pursue cases based on it, are hardly sufficient reason for government to reflexively criminalize an innocuous cannabis cousin. Especially one that represents a growing industry in rural North Carolina, where prosperity and economic growth are hard to come by.

That is to say nothing of the fact that more than a dozen other states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana itself. The trend is remarkable, especially considering marijuana is still criminalized federally, and reader thoughts on hemp and marijuana regulation are encouraged. North Carolina may not be ready to join states like Colorado by legalizing marijuana, but that is hardly a good reason to let a promising agricultural industry like hemp go up in smoke.

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