North Carolina legislators have found themselves in the midst of a battle between the state’s law enforcement community and the hemp industry over the legal status of hemp and marijuana in North Carolina. At recent committee meetings in the state legislature, it has come to light that the most profitable hemp product is the smokable hemp flower. The problem with this is that this dried plant material is indistinguishable, both visually and aromatically, from marijuana. Therein lies the problem for law enforcement.
Numerous sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials have testified in legislative committees that the inability to distinguish between the two plants is causing significant issues for the enforcement of North Carolina’s law against the possession of marijuana. As stated in a document produced by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), the proposed law would make hemp in any form legal, and the similarity of smokable hemp to marijuana “makes it impossible for law enforcement to use the appearance of marijuana or the odor of marijuana to develop probable cause for arrest, seizure of the item, or probable cause for a search warrant.” They say it will, in effect, legalize marijuana “because law enforcement cannot tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.”
In 2015, the state legislature took steps to authorize industrial hemp production, involving items like rope, paper, and food, as well as products containing CBD oil, which is purported to offer health benefits to some individuals suffering from seizures, anxiety, and PTSD. At the time this legislation was passed, it was never contemplated that smokable hemp flowers would become a cash crop resulting in these problems. In fact, NC Family recalls testimony given in 2015 suggesting that smoking hemp would make an individual physically ill.
To address the issue raised by law enforcement officials, the current version of SB315 – The North Carolina Farm Act of 2019 includes a section that would criminalize the possession of smokable hemp starting May 1, 2020. This would allow farmers, who are heavily invested in hemp crops this year, to harvest the crop and get it to market before the ban goes into effect. Previous versions of the bill proposed enacting the ban starting between December 1, 2019 and December 1, 2020. For the moment, May 1 seems to be the compromised date. The Farm Act passed the NC House Wednesday by a 63-48 margin and now goes back to the Senate. The Senate will vote to either concur or not concur with the numerous changes—including the May 1, 2020 ban on smokable hemp—that came out of multiple House committees. Should the Senate concur with the House’s changes, the bill will be sent to the Governor for his action. If not, the bill will go to a conference committee where House and Senate members will seek a compromise.
For more information about the harms of marijuana and the differences between CBD and THC, be sure to read NC Family’s article “The “Charming” And Alarming Face Of New Marijuana,” which was published in the latest edition of the NC Family’s Family North Carolina magazine.