State Politics

NC progress slow on industrial hemp legalization

A kanaf plant's leaves look similar to hemp or marijuana, seen in a field outside the Industrial Hemp Manufacturing Company in Spring Hope, NC, on Oct. 28, 2015. Farmers are eager to grow the crop, which can be used in textiles, oil drilling fluid and other products. It has virtually no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that is smoked. The outer fibers of these plants are used in the textile industry and the inner core is used by the oil and gas industry.
A kanaf plant's leaves look similar to hemp or marijuana, seen in a field outside the Industrial Hemp Manufacturing Company in Spring Hope, NC, on Oct. 28, 2015. Farmers are eager to grow the crop, which can be used in textiles, oil drilling fluid and other products. It has virtually no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that is smoked. The outer fibers of these plants are used in the textile industry and the inner core is used by the oil and gas industry. cseward@newsobserver.com

Industrial hemp production became legal in North Carolina on Oct. 31, but don’t expect to see the crop planted here anytime soon. The permitting process is moving slowly.

State legislators passed the legalization legislation in September, and Gov. Pat McCrory let it become law without his signature. But before farmers can grow hemp, private donors must provide $200,000 to cover the cost of regulating the industry.

That hasn’t happened yet, legislators learned in a committee meeting Thursday.

“It’s not moving as fast as everyone thought it would,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican who chairs several agriculture committees.

Hemp had not been legal in North Carolina in part because of a stigma: It’s a relative of marijuana and looks similar. But hemp lacks much of the ingredient that makes marijuana a recreational drug: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. That means it’s next to impossible to get high from hemp.

Industrial hemp can be used in fabrics, insulation, paper and car parts, and it has proved to be a lucrative crop in states where production is legal.

Once hemp supporters raise $200,000, the state will create an Industrial Hemp Commission with farmers and law enforcement representatives appointed to oversee a permitting process.

The commission’s proposed regulations also will need approval by the state Rules Review Commission. “I have a feeling that they’ll be thoroughly vetted,” said Jon Lanier, an attorney for the Department of Agriculture. “We do want this to be a very quality program.”

But Rep. Jimmy Dixon said Thursday that legislators need to take another look at industrial hemp before farmers start growing it. Dixon, a Duplin County Republican who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said the hemp bill should have received a hearing in his committee.

The House Rules Committee released the hemp legislation a few days before the legislative session ended in September, sticking it in a Senate bill that originally dealt with special license plates. The group lobbying for hemp said that was a deliberate move to keep the bill from being stalled in another committee; ultimately only two senators and seven House members voted against it.

“I’m not saying that we should or should not go in this direction; I’m just upset and perturbed in the manner in which it was forwarded,” Dixon said.

Dixon said he plans to put industrial hemp on the Agriculture Committee’s agenda when the legislature returns in late April. He said he wants elected officials to craft the regulations for hemp production instead of appointees who raised the $200,000 required by law.

“I think the decision belongs in the General Assembly, and I probably could be convinced to vote for it,” said Dixon, who voted no in September.

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