NC sees hemp as next big cash crop

March 20, 2019 GMT

While marijuana farming is flourishing in some states that have legalized the drug, North Carolina is looking to its cannabis cousin as a cash crop of the future.

Lawmakers on Wednesday rolled out the annual Farm Act, and 10 pages of the 16-page proposal are dedicated to setting up the necessary infrastructure to capitalize on the federal government’s loosening of restrictions on hemp production.

“Hemp production can be a new boom industry for North Carolina farmers and at a time when we really need it,” bill sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, said during a news conference. “We need to act now to become a national leader.”

Under a two-year pilot project allowed by the government, North Carolina’s hemp production has skyrocketed, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said. The state now has 634 licensed farmers growing hemp on about 8,000 acres and 3.4 million square feet of greenhouse space, up from 124 farmers and 2,200 acres and 242,000 square feet of greenhouse space last year, he said. There are also 413 licensed processors statewide, up almost tenfold from a year ago.

“The task becomes, how do we do this in a way that puts North Carolina at the forefront of this emerging industry,” Troxler said.

The Farm Act calls for creating a nine-member state commission to license hemp growers. Growers would agree to allow state and local law enforcement on their property for spot inspections to ensure no one is trying to grow marijuana instead of hemp.

Although both marijuana and hemp come from the cannabis family of plants, hemp is restricted to having less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Anyone found violating the rules could face both criminal charges and civil penalties under the proposal. Any conviction on a state or federal drug charge also would prohibit a grower from obtaining a hemp license for 10 years.

Hemp can be used to produce fiber for textiles, paper or a wood substitute. It can be burned for fuel, and its seeds contain protein for food and oil that can be used for detergent, ink and other products. CBD oil, which can be extracted from hemp, also has become wildly popular as a pain medication and to treat seizure disorders and other health problems.

Troxler said the CBD oil market has become “the wild, wild West,” and he hopes North Carolina’s regulations will create a brand that will boost sales and help farmers.

“We want the public to be confident that CBD oil produced in North Carolina is safe for consumption and to give them the confidence to look for North Carolina products,” he said.

But Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said the state needs to look beyond CBD oil.

“It’s important for us to give farmers every total advantage that we can,” Sanderson said. “We also need to focus on the hundreds of other uses that industrial hemp can fulfill and for the markets that are out there for those things.”

Other provisions of the Farm Act include the following: