Franklin Street's newest retailer is hoping to be a trailblazer for its industry.
Payton Roper is currently the general manager of The Hemp Store in downtown Raleigh, and she will soon be managing the store's new location in Chapel Hill.
"It's been nothing but successful in the Raleigh location," Roper said. "Franklin Street is such a welcoming community. The cannabis industry is really taking off, and we know that Chapel Hill is going to be needing their supplier."
The store will be occupying 115 E. Franklin St. and expects to open in the next few weeks.
"We should be opening around mid-November," Roper said. "The location used to be a Smoothie King so we have had to do some renovations."
Although the products sold at The Hemp Store are derived from the cannabis plant, they are not classified as medical marijuana.
"It's not medical marijuana, so we can't offer medical advice," Roper said. "But we do have charts in the store that help people compare different products."
The products sold there are also not classified as recreational marijuana.
"The legal limit for THC in products in N.C. is 0.03 percent, so none of our products have any higher than that," Roper explained. "People hear THC and think that it will get them high, but at 0.03 percent, there are no psychedelic effects."
While the legalization of industrial hemp was originally controversial in North Carolina, Roper said the public reception to their products has been encouraging.
"The response has been really positive," Roper said. "It definitely makes the community closer. People walk into The Hemp Store and walk out happier."
Industrial production of hemp was legalized by the General Assembly in October 2015 by Senate Bill 313. Despite the bill passing the State House by a vote of 101-7, then-Governor Pat McCrory came out in opposition to the policy.
“I have decided to allow Senate Bill 313 to become law without my signature,” McCrory said. "Despite the bill’s good intentions, there are legitimate concerns I would like to address.”
One of the organizations advocating for the hemp industry in N.C. is the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Association. Blake Butler, director of the association, spoke about the viability of the market in North Carolina.
“We are in the second year of the pilot program for industrial hemp in North Carolina,” Butler said. “We now have 450 hemp farms legally growing hemp across our state.”
While Chapel Hill’s hemp store focuses on medicinal merchandise, Butler said the hemp plant is used for a variety of products.
“We have built this market off of the notion that we can clothe, feed, shelter and heal off of hemp,” Butler said. “It has nothing to do with getting high and never will.”
But while the market has taken off in the state, hemp does not receive the same protections as other crops. After Hurricane Florence devastated farmland for large areas of Eastern N.C., hemp farmers were not eligible for crop insurance.
But Butler said the state’s hemp market is among the strongest in the country.
“One of the reasons I think we’re so far ahead is we have a lot of former tobacco farmers who have just been waiting for another opportunity,” Butler said. “A lot of these farmers can use the same practices for industrial hemp as far as planting, harvesting, drying and then taking them to a processor.”
Butler also spoke to the support of the industry by the state’s agricultural producers.
“There are so many areas to go with this,” Butler said. “We’re just excited that everybody in North Carolina is embracing the opportunity. I get calls every day from other states asking, ‘How are you guys doing this? How are you moving so fast?’ And my answer is that it’s in our DNA in North Carolina.”
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