By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
November 15, 2019
Cannabis sativa is one of the world’s most recognizable plants. And although it has been cultivated for thousands of years, authorities — including Tar Heel lawmakers — are still grappling with how it should be managed.
The problem: One variety of the plant can make you high while another variety cannot. And it’s extremely difficult to tell the two apart. Hemp and marijuana even look and smell the same, according to Tom Melton, deputy director of NC State Extension.
“The difference is that hemp plants contain no more than 0.3 percent (by dry weight) of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. By comparison, marijuana typically contains 5 to 20 percent THC,” Melton explains on the Extension’s website.
The issue has gotten more complicated since the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to have Industrial Hemp Pilot Research Programs, under which a licensed grower could produce any part of the hemp plant. Four years later, the 2018 Farm Bill moved oversight from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for hemp and all its derivatives and extracts. Also, at that time, CBD that is produced by licensed growers of industrial hemp was removed from the controlled substance list.
That’s when all the “CBD oil sold here” signs popped up, and farmers who were already growing hemp began to see an even brighter future ahead for their products as demand for the oil has grown.
On Halloween, the USDA issued new rules regarding the production of hemp. These include provisions for maintaining information on the land where hemp is produced, testing the levels of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, disposing of plants not meeting necessary requirements, and more. However, the USDA regulations also allow states and/or tribal councils to pass laws more stringent than federal regulations.
In North Carolina, the latest battle is over smokable hemp, which lawmakers plan to ban beginning June 1, 2020.
“Law enforcement has no issue with industrial hemp. We don’t even have an issue with the CBD oils,” Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin told the media late last month. “We have an issue when we’ve got the smokable hemp, that the state laboratory can’t even differentiate (it) from marijuana.”
Law enforcement agencies warn that allowing the smokable hemp is a de facto legalization of marijuana because officers won’t be able to develop probable cause for arrest or seizure of the item, or probable cause for a search warrant. (There is currently no reliable field test for officers to use to determine whether a bud or flower is hemp or marijuana.)
For that reason, six states have already banned smokable hemp.
North Carolina’s proposed ban is part of the state’s 2019 Farm Act (SB 315), which is now in the hands of a conference committee of House and Senate members working to iron out differences.
Lawmakers could take up the issue later this month or in January 2020.
Meanwhile, they are hearing from hemp farmers who say the USDA rules that require hemp flower material to be sampled within 15 days of anticipated harvest could create a bottleneck, especially if only laboratories registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will be allowed to conduct THC testing.