Budding NC hemp industry could suffer major setback

The North Carolina House Agriculture Committee voted Friday afternoon to pass an amendment to the 2019 Farm Act which could deal a major blow to the budding hemp industry in the state.

The amendment moves up a ban on smokable hemp, or the cured and dried hemp flower, to Dec. 1, 2019.

The SBI and other law enforcement agencies have been pushing for the ban since it is extremely difficult to quickly determine the difference between the hemp flowers, which is not psychoactive, and marijuana.

In the Senate version of the bill, the ban was scheduled for Dec. 1, 2020, which would have allowed industry leaders and law enforcement to implement a method to quickly test the buds, such as during a traffic stop.

Brian Bullman, owner and founder of Carolina Hemp Company in Asheville, said tools to test the buds are already available.

“This is a conversation that is not new in the country, it’s new in North Carolina,” Bullman said.

Bullman said the dried bud is fetching between $500-$1,000 a pound — much higher than hemp used for extracting CBD and other components, which typically sells for $40-$60 a pound.

The ban would mean a large loss in revenue, not just for the farmers who grow the high quality hemp.

“The vast majority of which are growing for CBD,” Bullman said. “Even out of those, a very large percentage growing for smokable flower so, it will have a significant economic impact. Right now, we’ve heard the state legislators talking about this smokable flower market is potentially 20 percent of the revenue in the market in North Carolina. We feel, as people on the front lines, it’s likely more like 30 percent or maybe even upwards of that a little bit. So, significant, significant impacts.”

John Ager, who represents a large section of Buncombe County in the North Carolina House, said he voted against the amendment. But with a large number of members not in attendance, the amendment passed 11-6.

“That was a big loss for our hemp group in Buncombe County,” Ager said. “I was very upset about that.”

Ager said he also pushed back against another piece of the Farm Act which he believes would hurt the hemp industry. The measure requires those who handle hemp to purchase a bond of “no less than $25,000.”

The 2019 Farm Act now has to pass several additional committees before it can be called to the NC House for a vote. It would still have to pass a commission, as well, since the bill has been altered from the version passed in the N.C. Senate.