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North Carolina hemp gets reprieve as governor signs law in nick of time

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper: "Right thing to do."
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has given the state’s hemp stakeholders a reprieve, signing a law that will keep the industry operating – just in the nick of time.

The new law makes hemp-derived products, including CBD, exempt from the state’s drug laws, and sets the official level for THC that defines hemp from marijuana at 0.3%.

The changes were necessary because hemp had been legal in the state only under a pilot hemp program started in 2017 that ended July 1. Cooper signed the law June 30 after the State Senate approved a House of Representatives version of the bill the day before.

Alignment with USDA

Key provisions in the new law bring the state into alignment with federal rules after the legalization of hemp as a result of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill. If the bill had failed, North Carolina’s industrial hemp program would have been forced to shut down at the end of last month.

North Carolina chose not to organize a program for hemp production after the state pilot, allowable under the 2014 Farm Bill, came to an end. That left growers to operate directly under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) beginning this year.

“Agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry 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,” Cooper said after signing the bill.

6th biggest producer

North Carolina hemp stakeholders had said millions of dollars in investments were at risk if the law had not passed.

State law agencies, including the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, had pushed back against hemp legalization, suggesting it would cause confusion in the enforcement of marijuana laws.

North Carolina was the sixth biggest producer in the U.S. last year when the state’s farmers harvested hemp from 1,850 acres after planting 2,150, according to the USDA’s first-ever report on the crop, released in February. State interests have pushed hemp as a rotation crop, and as a replacement for declining tobacco fields.

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