Is North Carolina Hemp in Danger of Re-Criminalization?

    June 24, 2022, 09:00 AM

    As most are likely aware, the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which legalized industrial hemp and hemp-derived products, also modified the federal Controlled Substances Act removing hemp-based tetrahydrocannabinols from the list of controlled substances. Likewise, North Carolina statutes, including the NC Controlled Substances Act, were amended to define hemp separately from illegal marijuana so long as it is produced and used in accordance with the NC Hemp Pilot Program.

    That may end soon in North Carolina. Currently, the relevant statutory provisions pertaining to the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program and the decriminalization of hemp will expire on June 30, 2022. If the temporary legalization is not extended, hemp could again become illegal and resume classification as a controlled substance in North Carolina, no different than marijuana. Members of the hemp industry are rightfully concerned about the approaching deadline.

    Legislators and industry players have apparently realized the importance of addressing this problem only recently. Over the last month, the issue has received enhanced attention. Recently, competing bills have been introduced in the NC General Assembly to address the approaching expiration of the hemp exemptions. The introduction of these bills and flurry of legislative activity underscores the necessity of passing legislation if hemp is to remain legal in North Carolina and will make it difficult to argue that the state’s inaction was intended to preserve the status quo and shift all aspects of hemp regulation to federal oversight.

    There is only a week left for NC legislators to solve this issue. If immediate action is not taken, the NC hemp industry will be thrown into disarray. USDA-licensed hemp growers will likely not be impacted and should be positioned to continue business uninterrupted. Unfortunately, hemp manufacturers, processors, distributors, and consumers, may not fare as well if hemp (including CBD, Delta-8 THC, and other hemp-derived cannabinoids) is no longer exempt as a controlled substance.

    Nevertheless, there is still hope of a resolution to this issue if legislators act swiftly. The next seven days will be critical, and surely hectic, for the hemp industry in North Carolina.

    The bills, in their current forms, can be found here:

    Senate Bill 455:

    Senate Bill 762