North Carolina Moves Backward on Hemp, and Farmers Will Hurt First

By Marc Lewis
Kym Mackinnon, Unsplash

On a Wednesday morning with the slap of a mallet Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh became a time machine. There were no flashing lights or loud whooshes to signal our going back, only the droll voices of elected officials to pace the return. Worry not that hemp helps people—creates jobs, eases pain and anxiety, brings rural and urban interests together—hemp is pot! Dangerous! Our law enforcement community will soon stumble about themselves in a confused stupor! Or so some want us to believe.

“The amendments being pushed through the NC House show that our lawmakers and law enforcement agencies are stuck in a “reefer madness” mentality,” said Tyler Russell of Ward and Smith, a firm that recently launched a hemp law practice group to help farmers, manufacturers, and brands navigate the space. “Hemp is not marijuana and, despite our lawmakers’ statements to the contrary, allowing the continued lawful production and sale of hemp and hemp products will not create a situation where we have de facto legalized marijuana in our state.”

In a big square room the squares pushed hemp back. A district attorney used his public comment time to say that making CBD flower (smokable hemp) legal would make the job of law enforcement officers impossible. Hemp flower would endanger probable cause and, he said, there are no field tests to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.

Michael Sims of Charlotte CBD stated a case to the contrary. There are field tests, he said, and the hemp industry will gladly pay for them in tax revenue. Sims cited veterans as customers, and reminded the committee of the variety of ways hemp is helping people feel better. He also mentioned yesterday’s Washington Post story that reported that our country was prescribed 76 billion opioid pills during the height of the epidemic—and now the committee was trying to make illegal a substance that may help those with heroin dependency.

“The Farm Act says on its face that our General Assembly finds and declares that hemp is a viable agriculture commodity, and it is in the best interests of the citizens of our state to move NC to the forefront of the hemp industry,” said Russell. “But the changes proposed by the House could effectively make all retail CBD products illegal in our state and would move our industry to the bottom of the nation. We cannot allow that to happen.”

The democratic process is boring—maybe by design. The bore keeps people whose lives are affected by laws from paying too close attention to the passing of them. But one needs not look too deep to see what is coming when the consequences of a back-then perspective take shape in our today. Farmers will struggle to replace tobacco, retail shops will close, and more people will go to jail for nonviolent offenses. In turn, a fresh wave of people will turn away from the process because of how bad people in charge are at doing simple things.

“Rep. Dixon, other House members, and NC law enforcement agencies want to characterize hemp as “marijuana” and to arrest, charge, and prosecute our citizens for possession, sale, or use of hemp and hemp products outside of a few very limited and narrow circumstances,” said Russell. “This will have a tremendous negative outcome on our state, its businesses, and its citizens.”

The public comment that best represented the immediate human toll of a ban on hemp flower came from Frederika Martin. She is a farmer who recently invested more than $100,000 in an indoor grow operation. She asked the committee how, without the crop she built around, she would recoup the money the family borrowed to expand operation? How would she get out of debt? How would she pay the bills?

Ms. Marin will no doubt have hard days ahead if the majority has their way. Others will lose money and their businesses. Some will surely get locked up. All to make sure we can go after marijuana with all our might, ward off the coming of cannabis, and beat back scary new days where people rely less on pharmaceuticals and our prisons have empty cells.

Of course hyperbole is a way to prove a point. That may be the only thing this writer and the officials my state elected agree on. Scaring people into thinking nuance is impossible is an effective tactic. But the truth here is not that complicated: Hemp is good. We have spent the last year looking for the catch—the massive risk to counter the big potential. But we haven’t found that danger yet. Hemp will help North Carolina, from sea to Tennessee. It will create business, lessen dependance on drugs, and breathe new life into our farms. We think good things should be legal and available. We think going forward on common sense is smart.

If you agree, let your representative know. Rub together some sticks and send smoke over that-thar crick. Summon the Pony Express. Better yet, dust off your DeLorean. Meet them where they are and tell them that us future-folk think standing in front of a large industry on its way to a better place is foolish. Tell them it’s best to get on board before they get squished, passed over, or forgotten altogether—forgotten like all the other political types of yesteryear who were too lazy, too entrenched, or too stubborn to manage simple, sometimes opposing, truths toward compromise. Tell them we want hemp—yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too.

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