Is Hemp the New Cash Crop of the Carolinas?


Both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant.  The difference is chemical makeup.  Hemp contains only a trace of THC, the substance that makes a person “high”.  A cannabis plant with more than 0.3% THC is legally classified as marijuana.

Industrial Hemp

Industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity that is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products, including foods, beverages, cosmetics, personal care products, fabrics, textiles, yarns, spun fibers, paper, construction and insulation materials, and nutritional supplements.  Hemp can be grown as a fiber, seed, or other dual purpose crop. Hemp oil processing is a high-tech manufacturing operation that requires employees with advanced skills.  California-based Hemp Industries Assn, an industry trade group, estimated a U.S. retail market of $573 million in 2015.  State legalized hemp farming programs remain legal under Farm Bill (Jan. 11, 2018).

Medicinal Hemp

More than 12 million people use cannabis for a wide variety of medical problems.  According to a survey conducted by Web MD/Medscape, 69% of Americans support legalization of medical cannabis.  There are more than 20,000 published studies about cannabinoids in relation to a wide variety of illnesses that include Alzheimer’s, cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, and seizures, etc.   Some companies are using phytocannabinoid-rich medicinal hemp in university studies for medical research for pain, inflammation, stress, cancer, auto-immune diseases, and neurological disorders.  Some physicians are petitioning to open quality testing labs and other businesses.  The scientific research on cannabinoids, its health benefits, and the public demand to choose it as a health solution without fear of legal jeopardy is paving the way for legalization in America, state by state.

Problems and Challenges

Hemp production in the United State is restricted due to hemp’s association with marijuana and continues to be subject to U.S. drug laws.  According to a case study done by Forbes, hemp businesses and startups have had difficulty marketing and selling non-psychoactive hemp products, as social media and financial institutions refuse to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.  

United States

The 2014 Farm Bill (Section 7606, 7 U.S.C. § 5940) Sec 7606 authorized Departments of Agriculture to create industrial hemp research pilot programs. The 113th Congress made significant changes to U.S. policies regarding industrial hemp during the omnibus farm bill debate. The Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79) provided that certain research institutions and state departments of agriculture may grow industrial hemp, as part of an agricultural pilot program, if allowed under state laws where the institution or state department of agriculture is located. The FY2015 appropriations (P.L. 113-235) further blocked federal law enforcement authorities from interfering with state agencies, growers, and agricultural research. (From "Hemp as an agricultural commodity," Congressional Research Service)

North Carolina

Hemp production has been legalized in North Carolina, but only as part of the state's pilot program as allowed under federal law. The N.C. General Assembly passed Senate Bill 313 in 2015, allowing the Industrial Hemp Commission to develop the rules and licensing structure necessary to stay within federal laws. The law was modified in 2016 in House Bill 992. The Industrial Hemp Commission adopted temporary rules for review in February 2017. The Rules Review Commission of the Office of Administrative Hearings voted to approve these rules.  The North Carolina hemp pilot program is overseen by the North Carolina Industrial Hemp Commission within the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.  The Commission collaborates with North Carolina State University and North Carolina A & T State University, two of the state’s major agricultural research universities.  Hemp farms have been licensed by the Commission to operate in the state under the rules of the pilot program.

South Carolina

The South Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 3559 making it legal for industrial hemp to be grown for research purposes in South Carolina in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture (SCDA) is the administrator of the application and permitting process. The law amends Chapter 55, Title 46 of the 1976 Code of Laws of South Carolina relating to the cultivation of industrial hemp. The legislation creates the South Carolina Industrial Hemp Program allowing certain colleges and universities to work with growers to conduct research or pilot programs contingent upon funding.  The South Carolina Department of Agriculture is currently administrating the SC Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.  SCDA is responsible for reviewing applications and issuing licenses to grow industrial hemp in South Carolina.  The SCDA will allow up to twenty permits for the first year (2017-18) and 40 permits the second year (2018-19).  In partnership with SCDA, Clemson University is dedicating efforts to help ensure farmers have access to resources they may need for success.  Currently there is no list of industrial hemp processors or manufacturers for South Carolina. Potential growers may reach out to processors in other states. The Departments of Agriculture from North CarolinaKentucky, and Tennessee have processor lists posted on their industrial hemp pilot program webpages.

Alternatives and Solutions

A key component essential to launching farmers into the new industry is education and information.  RGJ, in partnership with The Landall Group, presented two panel discussions on hemp at the Black Communities Collaboration Conference held on April 23, 2018 and sponsored by UNC Chapel Hill, Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and NC Growth.  On the same day, RGJ presented a hemp workshop at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center that focused on the question of whether or not hemp is a viable option to replace tobacco farming in North Carolina and South Carolina.