The General Assembly is one step closer to settling the smokable hemp dispute after months of deliberation.
In a 40-10 vote Monday, Oct. 28, the Senate passed the farm bill, which includes a provision to ban smokable hemp in June 2020. Law enforcement officials have been pushing to ban the smokable hemp flower because it’s impossible to distinguish the substance from marijuana by sight or smell.
The two chambers couldn’t agree on when to enact the ban. The Senate, led by Rep. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, wanted to push it to December 2020, hoping law enforcement would find a solution in the meantime that would allow the General Assembly to repeal the ban. The House, at the behest of Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, originally wanted to ban hemp as early as December of 2019. Last week, the two chambers settled on a June 2020 compromise during conference committee.
The House was also going to vote on the bill Monday evening. But it was withdrawn from the calendar because of a provision unrelated to hemp.
If the bill passes, law enforcement will be under pressure to find a solution by June. Otherwise, North Carolina’s hemp industry will take a huge hit.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has said it’s currently working on a mobile testing device that can be used nationwide to distinguish hemp from marijuana, Jackson said. He also noted that licensed North Carolina growers can still sell smokable hemp out-of-state or to other countries.
“I can’t guarantee anything but death and taxes,” he said. “But we’ll continue to work on this, and I believe we can find a solution by June 1.”
Sen. Harper Peterson, D-New Hanover, wasn’t as hopeful.
“This pulls the rug out from under so many farmers in this industry,” he said, noting that investors and processors could move out-of-state if the industry begins to falter. “We’re at the forefront right now. Hopefully we’ll send the signal that by June next year we’ll solve this issue.”
The Senate already is sending farmers that signal in the first 20 and a half pages of the farm bill, said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham. It’s only the final page on smokable hemp that’s caused any real controversy.
“Those of us working on this, particularly on the hemp sections of this bill, we’re committed to making hemp a thriving, growing agricultural industry in this state,” Woodard said.
Jackson acknowledged Peterson’s concerns about the future of the hemp industry, saying the final version of the bill wasn’t his ideal, but that it was the best compromise the House and Senate could work out.
“I’m telling you folks, I’m behind the farmer,” he said. “They’ve been in dire straits and serious financial situations for decades, and I want to give them every opportunity.”