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North Carolina lawmakers work to keep hemp legal as sunset date nears

A bill filed May 23 would extend hemp protections in the state.



Lawmakers in North Carolina are considering a bill that will keep hemp legal after the state’s Hemp Pilot Program sunsets June 30. The pilot program has key language in it keeping hemp off the state's list of controlled substances.


The pilot program as a whole is no longer needed because hemp growers have transitioned from state-level oversight to regulation through the US Department of Agriculture.


But when the law that created the program expires, so will the language differentiating hemp from THC-rich cannabis. Hemp is currently defined as cannabis with a concentration of 0.3 percent or less delta-9 THC — delta-9 being the most well known and naturally abundant form of THC in cannabis.


Unless new legislation is passed, CBD and other hemp-derived products would become illegal in North Carolina beginning July 1.


A bill filed May 23 aims to extend hemp protections in the state. Raleigh-area news outlet WRAL has been covering the issue and talked to legislators last week.


"We at least wanted to protect the hemp industry we had set up in North Carolina,” State Sen. Mike Woodard (D) told WRAL. “So, this gets us past that June 30 end date and align us with federal statue.”


”We at least wanted to protect the hemp industry we had set up in North Carolina. So, this gets us past that June 30 end date and align us with federal statue.”

— North Carolina State Sen. Mike Woodard (D)


The bill — part of the state’s 2022 Farm Act, Senate Bill 792, according to WRAL — would permanently define hemp as cannabis with a maximum concentration of 0.3 percent delta-9 THC. It would also permanently exclude hemp from the state's list of controlled substances.


"I think our pilot program proved how critical hemp is as a product to our growers and our producers," Woodward told WRAL. "It's a great product and provides benefit to the agricultural industry. … [T]his is definitely something we wanted to fix.”


In spite of support from state lawmakers, the issue of establishing permanent hemp protections has been controversial in the past.


“In recent years, any discussion of permanently legalizing hemp drew protests from law enforcement groups, who said it would make it impossible to arrest people for possession of marijuana,” wrote WRAL capitol bureau chief Laura Leslie. “But this year, no one spoke in opposition to it.”


“In recent years, any discussion of permanently legalizing hemp drew protests from law enforcement groups, who said it would make it impossible to arrest people for possession of marijuana.”

— Laura Leslie, WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Reporter


The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association last week told WRAL it was still reviewing the proposed legislation and didn’t have an opinion.


Sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson (R) updated the Senate's agriculture committee on the bill May 24, saying that if legislators didn’t act the hemp industry would be come illegal overnight.


"Our retailers are going to be illegally selling products," he said. "Our growers for the most part will also be illegal, and it will wipe out this industry.”

Sen. Jackson told the committee that the bill’s proposed changes conform to federal law and their purpose is to keep the current set of rules in place.

"In practical terms, we will maintain the status quo that we currently enjoy today and our growers and retailers have today,” Jackson said, addressing committee members.


The bill passed the Senate agriculture committee May 24 and the rules committee May 26, WRAL reported. It’s expected to win approval from the full Senate next week.


Separately, state legislators are considering a bill to legalize medical cannabis this session.

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