The N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission recently held its first meeting, officially beginning work to establish rules governing a pilot program for industrial hemp production in North Carolina.
The commission’s first order of business was to elect Dr. Tom Melton, of N.C. State University as its chairman. Melton is deputy director of N.C. Cooperative Extension and leader of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Program.
The commission came about following congressional changes to U.S. farm policies that allowed institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture to participate in research-focused pilot programs for industrial hemp production.
Interest in the crop has grown because industrial hemp has numerous uses as a fiber and food crop. Plant extracts also have been reported to have pharmaceutical benefits. Industrial hemp is distinguished from marijuana by having less than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive chemical known as THC, compared to 3 to 15 percent or higher in marijuana. Hemp is not new to North Carolina. It was cultivated in the 1800s and early 1900s primarily for its fiber.
In 2015, the N.C. General Assembly passed Senate Bill 313 calling for the creation of the Industrial Hemp Commission. The commission was specifically charged with developing rules and a licensing structure so the state would stay within federal laws.
“Our goal is to have a 2017 industrial hemp crop, but there are many, many steps we must work through before we can even put seed in the ground,” said Dr. Sandy Stewart, vice chairman of the commission and director of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Research Stations Division. “While the initial work has begun, farmers need to realistically understand that there are still significant bridges to cross between now and May of 2017, when planting could begin. That includes navigating import protocols to obtain seeds, since they would likely have to come from outside the United States.”
To begin the process for obtaining seeds for a first planting, NCDA&CS Plant Industry Director Vernon Cox has registered the department as an importer with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The commission will next focus on drafting rules for a system to permit growers to take part in the pilot program.
By law, commission members must represent agriculture, ag research or law enforcement, with ag-related members appointed by Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, research-related members appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory and law enforcement members appointed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Speaker of the House Tim Moore.
Commission members by appointment are:
- Troxler appointees: Guy Carpenter, an agribusiness and marketing professional from New Hanover County; Billy McLawhorn, a crop consultant from Craven County; Fen Rascoe, a farmer from Bertie County; Pat Short, a farmer from Guilford County; and Stewart.
- McCrory appointees: Melton, NCSU; Dr. Guochen Yang, N.C. A&T State University;
- Senate appointee: Cary Police Chief Tony Godwin;
- House appointee: Sheriff Sam Page, Rockingham County.
- Many groups attended the commission’s first meeting, including representatives from BioRegen Innovations Coop, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association, N.C. Hemp Industries Association and hemp-related businesses. To be notified of upcoming meetings or other commission-related news, go to www.ncagr.gov/hemp/ and provide email information in the mailing list block.