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North Carolina lawmakers come through for hemp, making it permanently legal

After a suspenseful week for North Carolina hemp farmers, shop owners and people who buy CBD, hemp is legal for the long term.

Gov. Roy Cooper signed legislation June 30 permanently removing hemp from the state’s list of illegal drugs. It was the last day to do so before a 2015 bill expired, reverting hemp to its former status as a controlled substance.

Even though hemp is federally legal, farmers and shop owners weren’t certain the state would give the plant a permanent stamp of approval. They were especially worried in late June, when House representatives took a provision to legalize hemp out of the Senate’s Farm Bill, saying they didn’t want the potentially controversial hemp matter in it.

If hemp had become illegal again, an estimated 1,500 farmers would have lost their businesses overnight, according to North Carolina news station WXII 12.

Since hemp cultivation started in 2017 under a pilot program, the state’s farmers have embraced the crop. In 2021, North Carolina farmers planted 2,150 acres of hemp and harvested 1,850 acres, according to the US Department of Agriculture, putting the Tar Heel State in the top 7 for hemp production.

State House Rep. Robert Reives (D) told state legislators farmers didn’t need another upset to the industry.

“They’ve already been through that one time with tobacco,” Reives said. “And so now they’re looking at the same thing with hemp. That is a scary proposition.”

“They’ve already been through that one time with tobacco. And so now they’re looking at the same thing with hemp. That is a scary proposition.”

— State House Rep. Robert Reives

Shops also would have had to close their doors to the state’s multi-million dollar hemp industry.

“There is a lot of business on the line in the hemp industry in North Carolina,” CBD retailer Lee Vantine, owner of the region’s Apotheca stores, told WXII 12 News. “There were a lot of people who were getting ready to be affected by it.”

Blake Wofford, co-owner of The Carolina Hemp Cabinet, told WCNC Charlotte his shop would find other products to sell if the law changed, but predicted it would hurt the business and their customers.

"I would say half of our customers, at least, are medicinal and that would be something that they would lose, and something that’s been benefiting them for awhile now that they wouldn’t be able to get anymore," Wofford said.

Although House lawmakers nixed hemp legalization from the Farm Bill, they were ultimately willing to get behind a similar standalone bill conforming the state’s hemp rules to federal law.

The General Assembly passed the legislation Wednesday and the governor signed it Thursday, ending uncertainty for farmers, retailers and consumers over whether hemp plants and products would be legal.

"Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry and giving North Carolina farmers certainty that they can continue to participate in this growing market is the right thing to do for rural communities and our economy," Cooper said in a news release announcing the new law.

Writing for High Times, reporter Thomas Edward noted that in North Carolina and beyond, policies allowing the hemp industry to grow have been "a boon to the agriculture community.”

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