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N.C. Senator addresses future of industrial hemp and CBD amid uncertainty of legal status

Hemp could become illegal again unless changes rare made to state law
Published: May. 20, 2022 at 5:13 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Since 2017, farmers in North Carolina have legally grown cannabis sativa, better known as industrial hemp, across the state thanks to a state pilot program which removed the plant from the controlled substances list.

Now, as that pilot program comes to an end there is a chance the plant could regain its outlawed status as soon as July 1, 2022, but State Senator Michael Lee says that is something he wants to prevent.

The changes have raised some concerns for hemp farmers and retail shops that specialize in hemp-derived products like CBD and Delta-8 THC.

The issues are more of a technical change to how the industry is regulated than an attempt by legislators to outlaw hemp, and now that the North Carolina General Assembly has reconvened for its short session, it’s something lawmakers can address before the end of the Fiscal Year, June 30.

Essentially, since the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken over hemp regulation in the country, North Carolina will no longer have a role in testing or setting rules for growers. According to the state law that enacted the Hemp Pilot Program, it is set to end once the federal government takes over.

“This act shall expire on June 30 of the fiscal year in which the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission adopts and submits to the Governor and to the Revisor of Statutes a resolution that a State pilot program allowing farmers to lawfully grow industrial hemp is no longer necessary because (i) the United States Congress has enacted legislation that removes industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act and (ii) the legislation has taken effect,” the law reads.

As of this year, the federal government has done just that, removing hemp from the list of controlled substances.

“The federal Farm Bill of 2018 established the regulatory framework for a U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program managed by USDA, which North Carolina will fall under beginning Jan. 1, 2022,” according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

However, that’s where the problems arise. The Hemp Pilot Program removed the plant from the state’s list of controlled substances, but once the bill expires, there’s no language in any other state law differentiating it from illegal marijuana.

“North Carolina farmers interested in growing hemp in 2022 will begin getting their licenses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as North Carolina wraps up its pilot program in conjunction with federal rules going into effect this year,” the State Department of Agriculture said.

It’s a minor change that needs to happen, essentially, changing state law to mirror federal regulations.

“So now we have a state Controlled Substances Act. And we would need to modify that in order to remove hemp from the definition of marijuana, much like they did on the federal level,” State Senator Michael Lee said.

The General Assembly reconvened on May 18, 2022 and it’s possible a bill to remove hemp from the list of controlled substances will be presented within the next few weeks.

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