Pubdate: Thu, 29 Oct 2015
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2015 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Colin Campbell


Legalization Bill Will Become Law Unless Mccrory Vetoes

Spring Hope Has One of the Only Hemp Processing Plants in the Country

Supporters Battle Stigma: 'We're For Rope, Not Dope'

Farmers in North Carolina are likely to wake up Saturday morning with 
a new option for growing crops: Industrial hemp production is 
expected to become legal at the stroke of midnight.

Lawmakers passed the legalization legislation in September, in the 
final days of the session. The proposal hadn't previously been made 
public, and some conservative groups worry that questions about the 
plant's connections to its cousin, marijuana, didn't get answered.

The bill has been on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk for weeks, and unless he 
vetoes it, it will become law without his signature at midnight Friday.

Lee Edwards of Sugar Hill Farms in Kinston is among the farmers eager 
to add industrial hemp to their fields.

"Hemp really gives us a crop during the summertime that is a viable 
cash crop to us," he said. "We're in a perfect geographical location 
for the production of hemp with our climate."

Hemp hasn't been legal in North Carolina in part because of a stigma: 
The plant is a relative of marijuana and looks similar. But hemp 
lacks much of the active ingredient that makes marijuana a 
recreational drug: Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

To get high from industrial hemp, Edwards said, "you'd have to smoke 
a joint the size of a telephone pole." Consuming enough hemp to feel 
any THC-related buzz also results in the equivalent of taking two to 
three doses of a high-fiber laxative, research has shown.

The N.C. Sheriff's Association did not take a formal position on the 
bill; the group says it "didn't have any concerns with it" because 
industrial hemp farmers would need a permit, administered by a new 
state Industrial Hemp Commission under federal rules.

"Getting a permit would make it easy for law enforcement to know 
where the legitimate growers were," association director Eddie 
Caldwell said. "If you don't have a permit, then the assumption is 
going to be it's the smoking kind."

North Carolina is also home to one of the country's only 
decortication plants, a facility that processes hemp to sell to 
textile manufacturers and other users. The multimillion-dollar plant 
is set to start production within months at a cavernous warehouse 
outside the tiny Nash County town of Spring Hope.

Hemp, Inc., plans to eventually employ 200 people at the facility. It 
will initially process kenaf, a similar plant that's already legal, 
and shift to industrial hemp when farmers begin their first harvest.

"There's a lot more products that I can make" using hemp than kenaf, 
said David Schmitt, the company's chief operating officer. "Nobody 
wants to make a flag out of kenaf."

In addition to its uses in fabrics, paper and car parts, the oil 
extract from industrial hemp can be used to treat epilepsy. A new 
North Carolina law, signed by McCrory in July, allows neurologists to 
dispense hemp, or CBD, oil to patients.

Schmitt says his company plans to eventually produce the oil in 
Spring Hope and will donate some of the product to patients who 
couldn't otherwise afford it.

'Simply rushing'

But not everyone is cheering the legalization of industrial hemp. The 
Rev. Mark Creech of the conservative Christian Action League worries 
hemp could ultimately lead to marijuana legalization in the state.

"What does this mean when farmers are able to grow industrial hemp 
and they get used to the profits, and then they start to think of the 
profits they might gain from the legalization of marijuana?" Creech asked.

Legislators showed no appetite for marijuana this year, with a House 
committee unanimously rejecting a proposal to legalize medical 
marijuana in March.

Creech said he didn't get a chance to voice his concerns about hemp 
because the bill surfaced at the end of the legislative session and 
passed the House and Senate days later.

"I think that we should have been asking a lot of questions rather 
than simply rushing that bill through," he said.

Legislators presented the hemp bill as a job-creating measure, but 
Creech has another theory for the near-unanimous vote. "I think 
that's the result of Republicans who were too tired to ask the 
necessary questions or too tired to fight," he said.

Even the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, which was created less 
than a year ago to lobby for legalization, was surprised that only 
two senators and seven House members voted no.

"It blew our minds," said the group's director, Thomas Shumaker. "We 
were expecting it to be close."

Shumaker, whose father is longtime Republican strategist Paul 
Shumaker, said the group deliberately planned for the bill to appear 
late in the session because "we didn't want it to get parked" in committee.

Instead, the House Rules Committee released the hemp legislation a 
few days before the legislative session ended, sticking it in a 
Senate bill that originally dealt with special license plates.

Thomas Shumaker noted that because the March hearing on medical 
marijuana resulted in a legislator's getting assaulted, "We worried 
that anything that had to do with the cannabis plant would get thrown 
out because of that reaction."

Instead, the Hemp Association's team of four lobbyists quietly worked 
the halls of the Legislative Building for months.

"They sat down and talked to almost every single legislator and said 
to them, 'Hemp isn't marijuana   we're for rope, not dope,'" Shumaker said.

New regulatory agency

If the hemp bill becomes law, as expected, the association will need 
to raise $200,000 to fund the creation of the N.C. Industrial Hemp 
Commission, which will regulate the crop.

Commission members would be appointed by McCrory, Senate leader Phil 
Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Agriculture Commissioner Steve 
Troxler. The commission will issue permits to farmers and ensure that 
they follow federal regulations governing hemp.

Requiring private donations to fund a new state agency is unusual, 
but Shumaker said "that helped get it through the legislature because 
we weren't asking government to put tax dollars behind it."

While dozens of farmers have voiced interest in hemp, Shumaker 
expects production will start small: Less than 50 acres likely will 
be planted in the first year, growing to about 1,200 acres in the second year.

"We shouldn't expect to see thousands upon thousands of acres," he 
said. "It's hard to convince someone that growing a federally 
controlled substance in their fields is a good idea."

Edwards, the Kinston farmer, says he thinks hemp will prove a 
profitable addition to his rotation of organic corn, soybeans and 
wheat. Because states are only beginning to legalize hemp farming, 
much of the country's processed hemp is imported.

"There's a strong market," he said. "We're pulling most of what 
Canada is growing, and they can't keep up with the demand."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom