With passage of the federal Farm Bill of 2018, hemp is no longer a federally controlled substance. The North Carolina Farm Bill (Senate Bill 315) would respond to the federal government’s requirement for a plan to monitor and regulate hemp production in the state. Here are some things to know about the issue:

Marijuana and hemp are the same — with one really big difference.

That difference is, of course, an addictive, psychoactive (mind-altering) chemical compound found in marijunana known as THC. That stands for delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, which is what produces such effects as feelings of euphoria, relaxation, lethargy, anxiety, paranoia, confusion, dullness, and yes, “the munchies.”

For hemp to be considered legal hemp, it must have a THC concentration of no more than 0.3 percent. Above that, it’s considered marijuana.

Hemp is a promising industry for North Carolina agriculture, with countless potential products.

Deregulation of hemp brought about a noticeable influx of products featuring hemp-derived CBD oils and CBD-infused products, many claiming to offer cosmetic or health benefits. But hemp has many practical, industrial uses (many are listed in SB 315):

  • cloth
  • cosmetics
  • cordage
  • fiber
  • fuel
  • health and wellness products
  • paint
  • paper
  • particleboard
  • plastics
  • many, many others

Being an early mover in regulating hemp production would give North Carolina agriculture a leg up here. It could also stave off Canadian competition, since Canadian hemp companies already perceive a “high-growth stepping stone” in entering U.S. markets.

Hemp will be regulated in North Carolina; the question is by whom.

After the federal Farm Bill of 2018, hemp production is allowed provided it meets the federal standard for THC concentration (no more than 0.3 percent). Who ultimately regulates it depends upon if the state submits an approved plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to monitor and regulate hemp production. Otherwise, the USDA will implement its own plan for the state.

The legality of products containing CBD and related compounds derived from hemp is unclear until the state acts.

Hemp contains numerous cannabinoids, which include THC. The other cannabinoids, however, don’t have THC’s problem of being psychoactive. The one getting the most attention is cannabidiol, or CBD, but there are many others. SB 315 lists the following: “Cannabigerols (CBG), Cannabichromenes (CBC), Cannabidiols (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), Cannabinol (CBN), Cannabicyclol (CBDL), and all other chemical cannabinoid constituents derived from hemp,” and later references “cannabinoid-related compounds” such as “cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and all other related compounds derived from hemp.”

But as the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced on Feb. 8, CBD is still considered a drug by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it is not lawful to be added to human or animal food in North Carolina. Carolina Journal recently reported on the uncertain legal environment of other CBD products.

Regulating and monitoring the production, transportation, sales, etc. of hemp products in North Carolina would remove this uncertainty, which would encourage quicker development of the hemp industry here.

Smokable hemp is a thorny issue.

One product with growth potential is smokable hemp. It’s also something that concerns law enforcement, however, because of its obvious similarities to smoking pot.

SB 315, which would allow hemp consumption in food products, would nonetheless make smokable hemp illegal after November 2020 (fifth edition, current as of this morning). The delayed ban is an attempt at a compromise position between the State Bureau of Investigation and farmers that would give lawmakers more time to determine what to do about it in the meantime. SB 315 would not allow sales of smokable hemp, although it would not list it in the State Controlled Substances Act. It also includes a section that would have the Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission study whether to repeal the prohibition of smokable hemp if the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency approved a method for the immediate testing of the THC level in hemp.

For more discussion on how SB 315 would address hemp production in North Carolina, see my research brief on the subject.