Changes probably coming to cannabis industry in North Carolina

Many of our customers express interest in full cannabis legalization in North Carolina. If that includes you, then you may be interested in a couple of bills that just passed the NC Senate.

Senate Bill 762 passed in the state Senate on Tuesday, May 31. Senate Bill 711 passed in the Senate yesterday. Both of them will now go to the House.

SB 762, which passed 43-0, continues North Carolina’s conformity with the 2018 Federal Farm bill that excludes hemp from the state controlled substances act, thereby making hemp derived products, like those sold at PhenomWell, legal. Our Rowan County senator, Carl Ford, was absent and did not vote.

Senate Bill 711, which also passed the senate, legalizes medical marijuana. If it becomes law, which looks likely, registered users will be able to buy medical marijuana for nine debilitating conditions. It’s been described as the most restrictive law in the country, both for patients and suppliers. The bill passed on a 35-10 vote. Carl Ford, who represents Rowan County, voted no.

Both bills define hemp as cannabis plants with less that .03% Delta-9 THC, by dry weight. If it contains more than .03% Delta-9 THC, it’s considered to be a different plant, marijuana. 

Ironically, the law is using the .03% Delta-9 THC level to make a fundamental distinction between hemp and marijuana — as if they are two different plants. They are not. They are the same plant, cannabis, cultivated to produce different levels of a single cannabinoid. 

So it’s possible, in the near future, North Carolina, like other states, will have two completely different industries based on the benefits people find in the same plant.

If SB 711 passes the house and gets signed into law, North Carolina will have a total of 40, lisenced, marijuana dispensaries, with a total of 10 owners. Registered patients, under a doctor’s supervision, will be allowed to purchase products for these debilitating medical conditions: “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, 15 positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune 16 deficiency syndrome (AIDS), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s 17 disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical 18 conditions…”

The law will provide those with serious illness the opportunity to work with a doctor and go to a medical dispensary and obtain plants and products with higher levels of Delta-9 THC.

And there will be stores and other businesses like ours that sell products derived from the hemp plant, in which the most prominent cannabinoid is CBD.

At PhenomWell, we love CBD, but we’re also grateful for the many other cannabinoids that are being discovered in the hemp plant — and the ways labs are now able to produce a wide variety of edible and vaping products from all the cannabinoids found in the hemp plant. There are over a hundred.

Part of the reason North Carolina is so late to full legalization may be because the law here does not allow for ballot initiatives unless the General Assembly creates them. Votes here are not allowed to gather signatures and put something on the ballot for voters to decide. Voters in many states, some even more conservative than North Carolina such as Montana, Mississippi, and South Dakota, have voted to legalize marijuana. But those states allow citizens to create a petition and gather signatures.

According to polls, North Carolinians support legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, but a recreational bill has never made it out of committee in the North Carolina General Assembly.

It’s a new industry, and things will continue to evolve quickly, even after these bills are passed into laws, but it looks like North Carolina will allow the industry to proceed with two separate paths. There will be the strict, medical path. And the hemp path. 

No matter the paths, there’s a lot of economic pressure on lawmakers to proceed one way or another. North Carolina has become one of the largest hemp producing states in the country. Whatever the level of cannabinoids — whether it’s below or above .03% Delta-9 THC, and however it’s regulated — with or without a doctor’s prescription — the growing of these leafy, green plants that produce buds containing lots of cannabinoids in the resin, in any ratio, is important to the state’s economy.

For now, rather than considering a separate category for recreational marijuana, the state’s government has decided to continue to allow a hemp path for all other medical needs, and recreational needs, that are not included in new Compassionate Care Act.