Industrial hemp production could become legal under a bill that cleared the N.C. House Rules Committee on Monday.
The hemp bill replaced Senate Bill 313 – which originally dealt with license plates – as a last-minute addition to the legislative calendar. Hemp production is currently banned in North Carolina, but if the bill gets through the House and Senate, an appointed N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission would oversee a pilot program.
The commission would grant applications for hemp farming and coordinate research projects with N.C. State and N.C. A&T universities. The pilot program would operate under federal guidelines established in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill.
“With over 25,000 uses, hemp is an incredibly versatile agricultural crop,” said Rep. Jeff Collins, the Rocky Mount Republican who’s sponsoring the legislation. “North Carolina’s climate and growing season are ideal for the growing of hemp.”
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Hemp is used in fabrics, building materials and paper products. Collins says it’s a good alternative crop for tobacco farmers who have seen their production contracts cut.
Collins also noted that his district is home to one of the only hemp processing plants in the country. Hemp, Inc. operates the decortication plant in the tiny Nash County town of Spring Hope, but the hemp it processes comes from other states and overseas.
“The Spring Hope facility will give North Carolina farmers a leg up in this industry,” Collins said.
But some legislators wanted assurances that industrial hemp wouldn’t be used in marijuana-related products. Marijuana is a similar plant.
“You know there’s another connotation out there when you talk about hemp,” said Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican.
Torbett asked Collins to “rest my mind” that “this is not something that could be assimilated with the use of marijuana.”
Collins explained that hemp has a low concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active chemical in marijuana that produces a high.
“This is not a product that can be used for intoxication purposes or anything like that,” he said.
Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican, voiced a concern about the process. The proposal hasn’t appeared in any other bills this session, and the House’s deadline to file legislation was months ago. “This may be a great bill,” he said, “but if you’re in Rules two days before we adjourn” the plan could need review from the House Agriculture Committee.
Kentucky and Tennessee already have hemp production pilot programs in place. “We’re going to use this product in the United States whether we grow it or not,” Collins said. “I’m asking you to give our farmers a chance to do this.”