The N.C. Industrial Hemp Association hopes to use money raised to create a commission for regulation and permitting procedures that will allow farmers to finally cultivate the crop.
The North Carolina legislature voted to legalize the production of industrial hemp in September. Now, seven months after this decision, members of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association hope to kickstart production of the crop in the state.
Different from marijuana
Industrial hemp, or Cannabis sativa, lacks the potent chemical most identified with the mind-altering effects of marijuana, which is derived from THC.
According to the association, sativa typically contains less than one percent of THC.
A low-information crop
Jeffrey Cartonia, executive director of the association, said the common misconception surrounding the differences between industrial hemp and marijuana can be attributed to the plant’s history.
“I think there’s an education process, which is very simple, once you talk to somebody and actually discuss what each variant is and what the differences are,” Cartonia said.
Before it was controversial, the cultivation of hemp was encouraged during World War II.
A film titled “Hemp for Victory,” encouraged farmers to grow as much hemp as possible to make things such as rope and cloth to contribute to the war effort.
Despite efforts to increase the production of industrial hemp, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 declared cultivating any form of the cannabis plant illegal.
Challenging the law
Nearly 40 years later, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives — the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2009 — sought to recognize the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana and legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp for American farmers.
The bill did not pass, leaving farmers in the 28 states that allow industrial hemp cultivation to continue to encounter obstacles.
“A farmer has to apply for a permit, they have to gain the permit, they need to expend money on that, and at the end of the day it’s still a federal charge for cultivating hemp,” Cartonia said.
He said in some states, namely South Carolina, hemp’s legality is severely stunted by its lack of a regulating body to issue permits.
There are other concerns, according to Cartonia, that make it difficult to raise money for the anticipated North Carolina commission.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” he said.
“It takes the right person at the right time with the right beliefs and goals and whole understanding of it all to make that donation.”
But Cartonia said it is difficult for farmers to make a decision without any substantial market data.
Cultivation takes time
Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich said a lack of experiential information about a market for industrial hemp in Orange County might be holding some farmers back from growing it.
“Farmers need to be comfortable with it,” she said.
While Rich said she would welcome industrial hemp farming into Orange County, she also expressed the lack of any federal support or regulation might also be a source of discomfort.
Mike Ortosky, an agricultural economic developer for Orange County, said the tradition of hemp in the United States is extensive.
“The thing about hemp that’s interesting to me is that it is a traditional agricultural crop. It has been around in the U.S. forever,” he said.
Ortosky said concerns about hemp stem from a lack of confidence in the industry, despite data that shows hemp could be a lucrative addition to the United States’ economy.
“It’s a cultivation issue. It’s a market issue,” he said.
“And then when can I count on a market being available?”