Farmers 'desperately worried' as hemp legalization deadline approaches

If lawmakers don't act by the end of Thursday, the burgeoning industry could become illegal starting Friday.

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A freshly cut hemp plant during harvest season. Photo courtesy of George Wooten.
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers have little more than 48 hours to get a bill sent to and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to keep hemp farmers in business. If they don’t, the burgeoning industry would become illegal starting Friday.
The high-stakes political standoff mounted on Tuesday after a House committee declined to add hemp legalization into a farm bill or consider a request to do so on the chamber floor.

“Let’s get this passed,” said state Rep. John Ager, a Buncombe County Democrat during a floor speech on Tuesday. “Our farmers are desperately worried about the future of their crop.”

In 2015, state lawmakers temporarily legalized the agricultural crop through a pilot program. If it’s not permanently legalized or extended by the end of Thursday, the state’s controlled substance law would treat hemp the same way as marijuana, which is illegal.

Republican leaders in the House last week stripped hemp legalization from Senate Bill 762, which the Senate passed unanimously with more sweeping provisions. Meanwhile, the Senate Rules Committee has thus far declined to take up the more narrowly tailored Senate Bill 455, which the House passed last month to permanently make hemp legal.

Chris Suttle, a Chapel Hill resident who was among a group of protesters calling on lawmakers to pass a bill that enables hemp to remain legal before the deadline. He and hemp farmers are exasperated by the process. They blame both Republican leaders in the House and Senate for not coming together to pass a clean bill dealing with hemp. They want the Senate to consider SB 455 Wednesday morning.

“This is about protesting the political game of chicken that the NCGA is playing where the Senate wants the House to pass this version of the bill and the House wants the Senate to pass their version of the bill,” Suttle said.

“They’re going back and forth. Everybody in the House wants to stand up and be our advocate right now and say that we’re doing such good work, but they’re not willing to reach out to their Senate counterparts to get Senate Bill 455 passed, which would finally remove hemp from the controlled substance act and allow this industry to continue to grow in the light of clarity versus dying in the dark in a gray area the NCGA created themselves.”

On Tuesday, Senate lawmakers also passed measures to ease regulations on bar owners and increase penalties for organized retail theft rings and the criminals who run them. The loosened restrictions for bar owners goes back to the House for final approval, while the crackdown on theft goes to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.


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