GREENSBORO, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers are considering bills that would make smokable hemp illegal under state law, earning support from some law enforcement and outcry from some hemp growers, sellers, and consumers.
This week, the bills continued to move through the state legislature. On Wednesday House committees considered Senate Bill 315, the 2019 North Carolina Farm Act, and Senate Bill 352, which would amend the NC Controlled Substances Act.
Both bills would classify smoked hemp as marijuana under the law.
"The term 'marijuana' also includes smokable hemp," the bills state.
Pushes for banning smokable hemp come from the organizations including the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
They argue that it is virtually impossible for law enforcement to tell the difference between marijuana, which is illegal under current state law, and hemp.
"Hemp and marijuana look the same and have the same odor, both unburned and burned. This makes it impossible for law enforcement to use the appearance of marijuana or the odor of marijuana to develop probable cause for arrest, seizure of the item, or probable cause for a search warrant," according to the SBI memo.
Under North Carolina state law, hemp is defined as containing no more than 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive substance in marijuana.
It is illegal to grow, buy, sell, or possess marijuana in North Carolina.
'It creates confusion'
Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page told WFMY News 2 on Saturday that he remains strongly supportive of the ban on smokable hemp as well as marijuana.
"I said this a few weeks ago when I was down at the legislature," said Sheriff Page. "If we allow smokable hemp in North Carolina, it creates all these legal issues for us in law enforcement, it creates problems for us with identification in the field. We don't have the ability to know what it is, to tell it apart from marijuana."
Page said that in addition to not having a field test, drug detection dogs do not have the ability to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.
"It creates confusion, because the officers out in the field, the dogs can't alert on this," said Page. "They are both a related plant, but you can't tell them apart except though (state laboratory) testing."
Page said he cannot recall a case locally where confusion between hemp and marijuana caused problems for officers in the field, but he said the situation is entirely possible.
"It creates problems for us, not only with the enforcement, but for the prosecutors and prosecution," said Page. "The smell of a substance, smoking or not, our dogs alerting, that creates probable cause for the purpose of searching and obtaining search warrants."
'A middle ground remedy' is needed, one hemp seller says
Adam Combs, CEO and Founder of Camel City Hemp in Winston-Salem, said he is strongly against the ban on smokable hemp under the bills.
"I was definitely disturbed," said Combs.
Combs said a ban on smokable hemp would negatively impact North Carolina farmers, businesses such as his, and consumers who rely on the product for health purposes.
"There are a lot of farmers, small farmers, medium-sized farmers, large production farmers, that have invested quite a bit of income, and taken out loans to produce greenhouse facilities," said Combs.
"I think it's going to decrease revenue from sales taxes, it's going to impact business that have employees. There are a lot of hemp stores around the area that have been able to hire people," said Combs.
The business owner said he would like to see law enforcement, politicians, and experts find common ground.
"I'd like to see a scientist brought in, I'd like to see laboratories brought in, and packaging companies brought in, all under the same roof, for discussion on how to label it differently, with QR codes. It should be a very simple process, but the politicians have not shown interest in finding a middle ground remedy for the farmers, the retailer, the consumers to be able to offer the product and make it easier for law enforcement to determine the difference."