Hemp holdspromise forN.C. farmers

North Carolina lawmakers cooked up an appetizing bit of sausage in the closing days of their marathon regular session last month, though the process used to make it left us feeling a little queasy.

Senate Bill 313, which is awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature, clears the way for farmers to grow industrial hemp after obtaining a permit from a state study commission. The bill also rewrites the N.C. Controlled Substances Act to distinguish hemp from marijuana.

The move is a leap forward for agriculture, already our state’s No. 1 industry. A versatile and sustainable crop, hemp is grown for its fibers, which are used to make paper, rope, building materials and clothing.

Hemp grows without the use of chemical pesticides and the plant even filters out toxins already in the soil, according to the North American Industrial Hemp Council, an advocacy group. The United States banned its cultivation “based on its biological connection to marijuana,” the council notes, a blunder that shows ignorance of plant science.

Though the crops are cannabis cousins, hemp contains only infinitesimal amounts of the THC found in marijuana that creates the drug’s psychoactive effect. Smoking hemp will not produce a “high.” It is grown by farmers for commercial use, not by users of medicinal or recreational marijuana.

The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which marked the U.S. government’s first step to regulate the drug, lumped hemp in with marijuana for no good reason. The feds followed suit with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and state legislatures largely mirrored the congressional template in their own drug laws.

Hemp is not, as some would suggest, a Trojan horse that will inevitably lead to the wholesale legalization of marijuana. It is a cash crop grown throughout the world, and struggling farmers throughout North Carolina deserve the opportunity to see it sprout in their fields.

Linking hemp and marijuana was a knee-jerk reaction based on misinformed public sentiment rather than science. Allowing industrial hemp cultivation corrects that mistake.

In its first iteration, SB 313 was an innocuous bill introduced to add five more specialty license plates to the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles’ already long list of customized tags. The full text was replaced with the unrelated hemp bill as a House Rules Committee substitute on Sept. 28.

Rules Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, is a farmer and farm equipment dealer. We’re sure he understands the value and importance of industrial hemp. A stand-alone bill would have been preferable, but the ends may yet justify the means.

Though the practice of hollowing out a bland bill and using it to pass legislation that might not survive full debate is common in the General Assembly, this legislative legerdemain undermines the function of representative government and deprives residents of the chance to weigh in.

The sausage-making isn’t pretty, but the end result in this case is palatable. We urge McCrory to sign the bill and add hemp to North Carolina’s agricultural roster.