Thursday, 25 July 2019 13:38

Fiery talk from N.C. lawmakers over hemp regulations burns out quickly

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RALEIGH — Fiery arguments over hemp regulation smoldered out Wednesday, July 24, when House members reversed feverish efforts to criminalize the plant’s smokable flower. 

In discussion that left some members scratching their heads, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, backed away from arguments that smokable hemp should be instantly banned. Last week, Dixon carved up parts of Senate Bill 315, “N.C. Farm Act of 2019.” The lawmaker also moved to, in a separate bill, classify smokable hemp as a controlled substance on par with marijuana. It’s impossible for law enforcers to tell the difference between what’s legal, and what’s not, Dixon said. 

"I feel that some will use legal hemp as a stepping stone to legalize marijuana,” Dixon told Carolina Journal in a July 17 email, just hours before he proposed the ban. “Some marijuana users are already cloaking their illegal activity using the hemp loophole.”

Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, was in Canada when the House changed his bill. Dixon’s changes were harsh and unsupportable, Jackson wrote in an email to CJ shortly after the new legislation was introduced. Hemp farmers would suffer needlessly, he said. 

While farmers and law enforcers battled it out in the media, Jackson and Dixon met to discuss the problem. Wednesday, Dixon surprised many in the committee by scrapping House changes to S.B. 315 and re-introducing the original Senate version of the bill. 

“I’m confused about what just happened. Have you changed your view on hemp?” Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, asked Dixon. 

“I’ve expressed my views objectively,” Dixon said, “and encourage you to vote for the bill that is before us.” 

Concern about a smokable hemp ban has come from many sides. The N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission voted Tuesday to support a resolution against Dixon’s proposal. The commission, which governs the state’s hemp research pilot program, called an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. 

Created by the General Assembly, the commission is part of the Department of Agriculture, and includes appointees from the governor’s office and the General Assembly. 

Every member of this commission supports law enforcement, said member Guy Carpenter, a hemp industry consultant. 

“I must object to the ‘this is a gateway drug’ argument,” he said. “I’m tired of North Carolina being the circus state.”

S.B. 315, as approved by the Senate, would delay a ban on smokable hemp until Dec. 1, 2020. That gives farmers and law enforcers time to develop a hemp/marijuana field test, Jackson has repeatedly stated. 

Still, law enforcers are asking for a total ban. 

“There is currently no field test which distinguishes the difference [between hemp and marijuana], the State Bureau of Investigation said in a memo earlier this year. 

“We want to do the right thing, but we do not want to cut a budding industry off at its knees before it gets started,” Jackson told House members. 

S.B. 315 passed by voice vote. It goes to the House Rules Committee for discussion. No floor votes are scheduled until next week. 

Senate Bill 352, “Amend NC Controlled Substances Act,” is the legislation that would classify smokable hemp as a controlled substance. It’s currently awaiting discussion in the House Rules Committee. Dixon told CJ he hopes the legislation would pass this year, but didn’t know when the committee may consider it.