News: CJ Exclusives

Smokable hemp rules likely to be settled in court, Dixon says

Field laborers search for and tag hemp plants that exhibit both make and female traits, to ensure they don’t pollinate the rest of the field. (CJ photo by Brooke Conrad)
Field laborers search for and tag hemp plants that exhibit both make and female traits, to ensure they don’t pollinate the rest of the field. (CJ photo by Brooke Conrad)

If passed, North Carolina’s hotly contested hemp law will probably end up in court, says the state legislator leading efforts to ban the plant’s smokable flower. 

Meanwhile, a new statewide poll shows voters wish the government would stay out of the weeds.

A new version of Senate Bill 315, North Carolina Farm Act of 2019, passed the North Carolina House Rules Committee Tuesday, Aug. 20. The latest version of the omnibus bill would outlaw smokable hemp May 1, 2020. It’s an unwelcome compromise for hemp farmers and hemp consumers alike.

Hemp, a non-psychoactive member of the cannabis family, is low in THC and won’t get you high. Instead, the plant is rich in cannabinoids — compounds used to treat seizures, pain, and anxiety. In 2018, the federal government removed hemp from its list of controlled substances. The declassification opened a gaping, gray area between state and federal law. 

With CBD stores popping up around the state, the popularity of edible, drinkable, and smokable hemp is spiking, a new survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows. Of the 508 North Carolinians surveyed, 70% believed they should have the right to buy or use CBD products, and 66% believed the government shouldn’t dictate what types of CBD products are acceptable. Only 22% thought hemp should be considered a gateway drug. 

S.B. 315 was supposed to help clarify the law for hemp buyers and growers in North Carolina, but arguments over smokable hemp added to the haze.  

State legislators for months have quarreled about expanding North Carolina’s hemp pilot program into a statewide farming industry. The Senate in June passed S.B. 315 under the guidance of Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson. The bill has since flip-flopped through House committees, shepherded by Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin. 

Dixon and Jackson clash over what to do about smokable hemp.  

Law enforcers can’t tell the difference between hemp and marijuana, argues Dixon, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, and the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. The original version of S.B. 315 would’ve banned smokable hemp by Dec. 1, 2019, but — after listening to concerned farmers — Jackson changed the date to Dec. 1, 2020. 

Give the farmers and law enforcers time to work out a solution, he said. 

Dixon disagreed. 

“The longer we go without an official ban on smokable hemp, the more jeopardy we are in,” he said Aug. 20 before the House committee. Law officers would like to see the date returned to Dec. 1, 2019.

The legislature should also set age limits on who can buy hemp products, Dixon said. 

Most CBD retailers already check to make sure buyers are 18 or older, Jackson responded. 

“I’m not going to overdramatically explain anything else,” he commented to Dixon. 

Last month, Dixon threw a curve at Jackson, attempting to ban smokable hemp via an amendment to the N.C. Controlled Substances Act. That legislation, Senate Bill 352, still sits in the House Rules Committee, its future uncertain now that lawmakers have chosen to address the hemp ban within the farm bill. 

Even if the legislature manages to pass hemp regulations as part of S.B. 315, “This is a legal question that I think will be played out in the courtroom,” Dixon said. 

North Carolina isn’t the only state facing legal challenges over hemp. In July, a group of Indiana CBD retailers sued the state over its smokable hemp ban. 

North Carolina growers are ready to follow suit, Blake Butler, executive director of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, told Carolina Journal last month. CJ reached out to Butler for comment via phone Aug. 20, but didn’t receive an immediate response.

“This is my life,” Michael Sims, the founder of Charlotte CBD, a hemp dispensary, told the committee. “Why are we fighting this? We are doing nothing but hurting the industry. We’re smarter than this.”

  • Sandy Blakely

    Stupid, Prohibition has never made anything or anyone better, except fueling organized crime.

    • Bob

      And liberalization has made every place where it’s been enacted more liberal, resulting in higher taxes and less freedom. Show me where that has not been the case. How and why would it be different here? (Unless of course, that’s what you want. I do not.)

      • Sandy Blakely

        More freedom never equates to higher taxes. Liberalization is the opposite of Leftists.

        • Bob

          Please just don’t state a truism and for its proof point to (your own) stated truism. In places like Washington state, the debate started with hemp (Hempfest), the lead argument being that this was a persecuted product which looks and grows exactly like weed but is used only for industrial purposes. Then came medical marijuana, which rapidly devolved into quackery so egregious almost anyone could qualify for a prescription for any reason (California). This led to a natural conclusion that to stop these opioid-like black markets it needs to be readily available — but heavily regulated. Again, Washington state might have been a test case but simultaneously a former Costco executive got a bill passed doing away with the state-run liquor stores (do I see a pattern here?), so the distribution of the now quasi-legal weed was left to the head shops.

          As a specific example of where that can lead to, in terms of liberalization leading to higher taxes and more regulation/less freedom, witness the rapidly devolving politics and taxation of Colorado. Until very recently, that state used to be kinda purple but the greener it got, the bluer it got, and now it’s gone. Maybe in the future you might see a change if/as legalization expands and the politics of it were to become more neutral, but as of right now, the opposite is true, and I presented specific examples how and why.

          I think of regular weed smokers as losers (but don’t think it warrants criminalization but am open to arguments otherwise). I do view it as a gateway drug. Its only purpose is intoxication, while I have consumed many single, social beers with zero intention of getting drunk. And as of right here, right now, I do view hemp as gateway politics. I think the liberal political injection needed to justify growing this crop may help some farmers now but will ultimately lead to more intrusive agricultural regulations later. Just ask a Californian, which won’t be hard, they’re here now. The reason I am spending so much time on this topic, when I am neither a farmer, user, or seller, is the debate is moving out of the parlor game stage, beyond the opinion journals, and into policy, but unlike in the past, we have perfect hindsight where this can lead to.

          • Sandy Blakely

            Obviously the product needs regulation at the point of sale. Obviously, California heavily overregulates everything, and Colorado is heading that way. What you’re describing is not more freedom, just more prohibition benefitting organized crime and their politicians. Hopefully, NC can learn from these bad examples.