Back in September, industrial hemp made the news in eastern North Carolina when five Edgecombe County men were arrested for either stealing or attempting to steal industrial hemp plants from a farmer’s field in the county.
This illustrates one of the greatest challenges for growing industrial hemp in North Carolina. To the untrained eye, industrial hemp in the field looks just like marijuana. Certainly the suspects were disappointed to discover that the plants they stole or tried to steal can’t get you stoned like marijuana.
Edgecombe County Sheriff Cleveland “Clee” Atkinson Jr. told the media at the time that his office will continue to monitor the hemp fields in the county and arrest anyone trespassing at the sites. He also pointed out that industrial hemp is not marijuana and won’t get you high because it contains less than 1 percent THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that gives marijuana its narcotic effect.
That people would be arrested for stealing industrial hemp, thinking it is marijuana is no surprise. It’s important for the fledgling North Carolina industrial hemp industry to educate the public and continue to hit the point home that industrial hemp grown in the state is not marijuana.
There are certainly other challenges to growing industrial hemp. It is not a miracle crop and still requires careful management like traditional crops. But there is potential, particularly if profitable markets can be developed. That really is job one: marketing.
If farmers can make a profit growing industrial hemp, they will overcome the obstacles of producing the crop, just as they overcome the obstacles of producing tobacco, cotton, peanuts and other valuable crops. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and North Carolina State University are committed to industrial hemp and want the industry to grow.
The Industrial Hemp Commission is seeking farmers to become licensed industrial-hemp producers through the Industrial Hemp Pilot Program. To get a license you have to be a bona fide farmer and agree to THC inspections from law enforcement or NCDA. You also have to cite a clear research purpose for growing the crop.
Producing industrial hemp is a good fit for a farmer who likes a challenge. If the market grows, industrial hemp can work as another specialty crop for North Carolina.