By Kari Travis, Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — Lawmakers have reached a compromise on smokable hemp, but their agreement may not make everyone in the hemp community happy. For now.
Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, and Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, have agreed to a June 1, 2020, smokable hemp ban, an Oct. 24 conference committee report shows.
Legislators since March have debated about how to regulate the state’s sprouting hemp industry, devoting a large portion of Senate Bill 315, “North Carolina Farm Act of 2019,” to the topic. In 2018, the federal government removed hemp from its list of controlled substances. That move created a legal gray area. It also allowed hemp pilot programs — like the one created in North Carolina in 2015 — to expand under state supervision.
Disagreement over smokable hemp killed progress, said Jackson.
“When [the federal government] said that all parts of the hemp plant were legal and had been removed from the controlled substances list, I didn’t see an issue,” Jackson told Carolina Journal in an Oct. 23 interview, just hours before meeting with House counterparts to work out a compromise. “But how wrong was I?”
Hemp, a non-psychoactive cousin to the marijuana plant, can’t get you high. But law officers visually can’t tell the difference between the two substances.
The Senate legislation originally included a plan to ban smokable hemp December 2019. After listening to concerned hemp growers, Jackson moved the ban to December 2020. The intent was to find a field test to differentiate between hemp and marijuana. That way, law officers would be prepared to handle the burden of enforcement.
Jackson didn’t want the ban to last, he said.
But in the House, Dixon cracked down on smokable hemp, moving to restore the Senate’s original ban. He later moved the ban date to May 2020, and attempted to classify hemp as a controlled substance — equal to marijuana.
Hemp has been removed from the controlled substance list in the conference version of S.B. 315. The legislation also directs the State Bureau of Investigation to notify officials when a field test has been approved by “a national accreditation body.”
The compromise may not look appealing to hemp farmers right now, Jackson said, but the blockade isn’t likely to last.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to release a standard field test in the next few months, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to launch regulation standards for the hemp industry, Jackson said.
The ban will likely be phased out as those enforceability measures come into play, Jackson said.
“This is by far the most complicated, confusing, and conflicting farm act I have ever run out of the seven or eight I’ve [carried],” Jackson said.
“This has been a long fight and it has drained the majority of our resources to fight the smokable hemp ban,” said Blake Butler, executive director of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association. “We are very disappointed that the Senate can no longer hold the line at December 2020, giving us more time. But this is not the end, this is a new beginning.”
S.B. 315 mandates that law enforcers, hemp farmers, and others affected by the law meet quarterly to hash out the problems at hand. That makes Butler optimistic that a consensus may be reached before June 1, 2020.
“I’m happy we get to be at the table,” he told CJ.
The House and Senate have scheduled the bill for a Monday vote.