Victory for N.C. hemp industry as N.C. Senate passes bill keeping it legal

The N.C. Senate votes 41-2 in favor of SB 455, Conform Hemp with Federal Law on June 29, 2022. Photo by Theresa Opeka, Carolina Journal.

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  • Hemp stays legal in North Carolina with the passage of S.B. 455, Conform Hemp with Federal Law Wednesday in the Senate.
  • The vote comes as a law that temporarily legalized hemp in 2015 was set to expire on June 30.
  • S.B. 762, The Farm Act, which also passed the Senate Wednesday, had the hemp provision removed last week.

Editor’s note: Governor Roy Cooper voted S.B. 455 into law Thursday.

Hemp farmers and retailers across North Carolina rejoiced Wednesday afternoon as the Senate voted 41-2 in favor of S.B. 455, Conform Hemp with Federal Law, keeping hemp legal in the state, and removing it from State Controlled Substances Act.

“Hemp was dead yesterday in the House, but this body sitting here, including myself, have supported every Farm Act we have done, and we support our farmers whether they are a 25,000-acre grain farmer in our northeast, or they are a half-acre hemp farmer or herb farmer in the mountains of North Carolina, we stand with our farmers,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, on the Senate floor Wednesday evening.

The vote comes as a law that temporarily legalized hemp in 2015 was set to expire on June 30, which would have made it illegal to sell hemp in the state, possibly causing hemp growers and sellers to be subject to charges for possession and trafficking of marijuana online.

There were some tense moments for growers and retailers once the language legalizing hemp was removed from the S.B. 762, North Carolina Farm Act of 2022  last week. That bill also passed in the Senate Wednesday 43-0 and passed in the House Tuesday, 99 to 13.

“I am well pleased that the retailers who retail CBD and hemp products, as well as the farmers who are involved in hemp production now have a clear and legal course to continue their business,” Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, told Carolina Journal.

On June 1, the House voted 85-26 in favor of S.B. 455.  It was reported that several House Republicans would have voted against the Farm Act if the hemp provision was kept in it.

“The fix to the hemp situation has been residing in the Senate since June 2. As far as I am concerned, the House had the problem solved weeks ago,” he added.

Eric Stahl was also pleased. He is the owner of Modern Apotheca, a small hemp retailer in Raleigh. He spoke before the House Rules Committee Tuesday, urging them to have their colleagues pass S.B. 455.

“I don’t appreciate the drama of taking it to the last moment but the fact that hemp is now legalized, there is no expiration, hemp is here to stay in North Carolina in perpetuity, I am a happy man, and we should have hundreds of thousands of happy customers across the state,” Stahl told Carolina Journal.

He started the company in 2018 because he found out that CBD was helpful for his wife’s Crohn’s disease and believes hemp-related products are better than drugs like oxycodone, pharmaceuticals, and alcohol when treating some illnesses. Stahl said there wasn’t ignorance with the hesitation with having the hemp provision in the Farm Bill, but said medical marijuana lobbyists slowed the process.

“Medical marijuana is a really big business,” he said. “The medical marijuana folks have a lot more money to spend than we do on the hemp side, and they are actively lobbying our legislators to bring marijuana in lieu of hemp and that is what we started to fight against. Today was a big victory for hemp and for keeping monopolized medical marijuana in its place.”

Jackson had presented a revised version of S.B. 762 that includes a section clarifying and reinforcing the existing exception from the building code for buildings that are used primarily for storing agricultural products. He said an amendment was added to appease fire marshals.

The amendment was introduced by Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, and would make farmers responsible for bringing buildings that stored products up to code. After much debate on the House floor on Tuesday that it would put an undue burden on farmers, the amendment was voted down.

Jackson said they took out the original portion of the bill called Right to Repair after a discussion in the Senate Agriculture Committee. They decided to change it to a study and hold hearings across the state so they can hear from farmers, manufacturers

The Right to Repair would have allowed any of the following: any modification that permanently deactivates a safety-notification system with electronics enabled implement of agriculture is being repaired; any modification of the horsepower or other engine faction of the electronics enabled implement of agriculture through modification of embedded software (programmable); access to any faction of a tool that enables the owner or independent repair provider to change the settings of an electronics-enabled implement of agriculture so as to bring the equipment permanently out of compliance with any applicable safety or emission laws.

Dealers overwhelmingly spoke out against it at a hearing last month. They said the language was too broad and would hurt their businesses as they spend millions on parts each year and employ hundreds of people. In addition, dealers worried it would create liabilities for them and farmers, as any change would make the equipment unsafe. They said customers have access to parts now, and manuals are already. They also stressed that emissions issues would violate the Clean Air Act.

Both bills head to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.