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Legislation positive news for hemp plant

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By Corey Davis
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A recent bill ratified by state lawmakers to allow industrial hemp to grow through pilot programs is more positive news for a hemp processing plant outside of the town of Spring Hope on North N.C. 581.

The N.C. House has backed a plan paving the way for North Carolina to join several other states in the rapidly growing marketplace for industrial hemp. The N.C. General Assembly gave tentative approval to House Bill 992 allowing for state land grant universities to grow industrial hemp through pilot programs. 

However, growers could be charged with a low-level felony for growing marijuana on property designated for hemp.

N.C. State University and N.C. State A&T State University are the two state land grant universities piloting industrial hemp research programs. Federal law opened the door to industrial hemp research in 2014. 

House Bill 992 builds on a law passed last year in North Carolina that legalized the crop in October. Reports said it had not been legal in North Carolina because of a stigma that the plant is a relative of marijuana. But hemp lacks much of the active ingredient — tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — which makes marijuana a recreational drug.

Reports said hemp has high nutritional value and can be used in such things as biodegrable plastics, fabrics, fuels, car parts, insulation, paper, clothing and rope. China is the largest hemp producer and the United States is the largest consumer of hemp, according to reports.

David Schmitt, chief operating officer for Industrial Hemp Industries, said hemp supporters through the N.C. Industrial Hemp Association raised more than the $200,000 required through private donations to regulate the industry. It led to the formation of the N.C. Industrial Hemp Commission. Next is the appointment of the five-member commission that will propose permanent rules for the N.C. Board of Agriculture to adopt.

N.C. Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said North Carolina is a perfect geographical location for the production of hemp with our climate. Farmers have said it gives them a crop during the summertime as a viable cash product.

The Hemp Inc’s decortication plant in Spring Hope called Industrial Hemp Industries, a facility that will process hemp to sell to textile manufacturers and other uses, is one of the country’s only decortications plants. 

Schmitt said the multimillion-dollar plant at a large warehouse outside the small Nash County town soon will grow from 20 to between 40 and 50 employees once it begins operations in less than 60 days. The eventual plan is to shift to industrial hemp and away from kenaf when farmers begin their first harvest.

Schmitt said the whole hemp bill is about making sure things are equitable for all farmers in North Carolina. 

“This industrial hemp bill is about economic development and creating jobs in North Carolina,” he said. “We’re trying to replace some of the revenue that the farmers have lost for the last decade with their tobacco crops of corn, wheat and soybean. Those aren’t feeding the children and paying the bills liked they used too. We’ve got to have crops that will enable the farmers to prosper. I see House Bill 992 as trying to make this thing that all the farmers in the state can participate in this pilot program and obviously, we have the largest hemp facility in the entire nation. The farmers grow hemp, but they’re looking for us to purchase their crop and we will.”

Collins said the hope is the federal government will allow industrial hemp to be more market driven, than what it is right now in North Carolina as just being a pilot program. Schmitt said all of the farmers that wish to participate in the program should be able to get license and able to grow hemp next year.

“I’m very optimistic that the farmers should be able to get seed in the ground next spring,” he said. 

Schmitt foresees hemp being lucrative and profit making for the state. Currently, Schmitt said, he is in negotiations with a billionaire company saying by 2019, it will need 100 million pounds of hemp per year, while six other companies have expressed a need to relocate to North Carolina from the western part of the United States because they need to be near Spring Hope plant due to their products are made out of hemp.

“We’re looking at thousands of new jobs over the next couple two or three years easily, the hemp industry could create in North Carolina,” Schmitt said. “At our Spring Hope plant, I’m anticipating another year from now, we should be up to 100 new jobs and a year after that about 300 jobs. I want as many people from Nash County as I can possibly get.”

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