North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill making it legal to make and sell Hemp just two days before it was made illegal and Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law one day before the deadline. Senate Bill 455 was passed by a vote of 41 to 2 on Wednesday, and Cooper signed it into law on Thursday. This means that Hemp won’t be on the list of drugs that are illegal in the state anymore.
A temporary pilot program that made Hemp legal a few years ago was set to end in June. CBD health products are very popular and are made from the plant. A report from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says that more than 1,500 hemp farmers are in North Carolina.
If the government had let Hemp become illegal, thousands of people who live in rural areas could have lost their jobs. “I know that there’s a sigh of relief on the part of a lot of folks around the state that it was taken care of,” Republican Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters after the vote.
This bill does not legalize marijuana. A separate bill to use marijuana for medical purposes did pass the Senate, but it hasn’t moved in the House since.
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STANDOFF IN THE HOUSE AND SENATE
The last-minute vote comes after the House and the Senate dragged their feet on the issue for weeks. SB 455 was passed by the House at the beginning of June, but it didn’t move for weeks while it was in the Senate Rules Committee. Also, Senate Bill 762, also known as the Farm Act, used to include language that legalized Hemp, but that part had to be taken out before it could get out of the House Agriculture Committee.
The committee’s chair, Republican Rep. Jimmy Dixon of Duplin County, North Carolina, told reporters that if legalising hemp had been part of the Farm Act, about a third of House Republicans would have voted against it.
Rep. John Ager, a Democrat from Buncombe County, unsuccessfully attempted to salvage Hemp by presenting a last-minute amendment to the Farm Act on Tuesday. Dixon said he was sure the Senate would take up SB 455 and fix the problem. This would mean that the Farm Act wouldn’t need to be changed.
Before the vote, Republican Sen. Brent Jackson of Duplin County gave a speech about the many problems that the General Assembly had with legalizing Hemp. “Hemp was dead yesterday in the House, but this body sitting here — including myself — have supported every Farm Act we have done, and we support our farmers whether they are a 25,000-acre grain farmer in our northeast … or they are a half-acre hemp farmer or herb farmer in the mountains of North Carolina —we stand with our farmers.”
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Jackson is a farmer, so people who support Hemp have long looked to him for help in the legislature. Blake Butler, the head of the Southeast Hemp Association, said, “We consider Sen. Brent Jackson one of the champions of the North Carolina hemp industry,”
HEMP MANUFACTURERS RESPONSES
Farmers and sellers of Hemp have spent the last month anxiously keeping up with negotiations. Many feared they would have to close their businesses if things didn’t go their way. Eric Stahl started the Hemp and CBD store Modern Apotheca in Raleigh. After his wife found that CBD products helped her deal with her Crohn’s disease, he and his wife started their own business.
Stahl said, “I never thought I’d have to persuade a bunch of Republican senators to support personal freedom and choice, since they usually do.” Waylon Saunders, a hemp farmer in Asheboro, told The News & Observer that he didn’t know what would happen to his business if the state didn’t pass a bill legalizing Hemp.
“I’m sitting on quite a bit of inventory that if they don’t renew it this week — I guess I’m gonna have to burn it,”
he said. Before the vote, John Boccella, who started The Hemp Company in Raleigh, told The N&O that he wouldn’t close his business if Hemp became illegal. “These products are still federally legal,” he said.
“And I think that anybody with any common sense, whether it’s law enforcement, or a judge, or a General Assembly member, would be crazy to arrest me on Friday or Saturday for selling these products.” Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, said that his group had been in touch with state regulators and that Hemp sellers shouldn’t worry if a deal isn’t made.
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“I’m quite confident that if for some reason this blows up, they’re not going to be setting out enforcement actions to try and arrest people for selling Hemp,” he told The N&O in a phone interview. Thursday, the Democratic governor said that the new law would give farmers a sense of security. “Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry,”
Cooper said in a news release. “and giving North Carolina farmers certainty that they can continue to participate in this growing market is the right thing to do for rural communities and our economy.”