Status Quo for Hemp Licenses. What Does This Mean?

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4/20/2020 – Right now, we are still operating under the pilot program in NC, just as we have since the beginning of the program in 2017. If you want to grow hemp, you still need to apply for a license from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS). You have the option of applying for either a 1-year or a 3-year license. Once you submit all of the necessary paperwork, your application is reviewed by NCDA&CS, and then is passed on to the NC Industrial Hemp Commission to be voted on. As of the time that this is being written, we expect to continue under the pilot program until the end of October 2020. It is not certain yet what will happen after this.

The USDA published an interim final rule on October 31, 2019. The rule stated that all state pilot programs would expire one year after the date that this rule was published. It also permitted states to continue to operate under the rules of their respective pilot programs through the end of October 2020.

There seems to be two options for NC for how to proceed after October: a) submit a state plan to the USDA for approval, in which case the NCDA&CS would continue to regulate hemp licensing or b) go under the USDA’s plan, which would mean that NC farmers would apply for a license directly from the USDA.

The decision about which of these paths to take has not been made yet. In order for NCDA&CS to make this decision, they first need authority from the General Assembly (GA) to do so. The proposed farm act that was debated in 2019 would have provided the GA this authority; however, that has not been passed into law.

The GA was scheduled to come back into session on April 28, 2020. However, given the current circumstances with the coronavirus, this date is now uncertain. And even if the GA does reconvene at the end of April, it seems unlikely that the farm act would be at the top of the agenda.

There is also timing to be considered. Assuming that the farm act is passed by the GA in the next month or so, the NCDA&CS would still need to write up a state plan and submit it to the USDA for approval. The USDA has up to 60 days to review state plans and then notify states as to whether the plan needs to be amended or is approved. These steps would all need to be completed by the end of October in order to transition directly from the current pilot program to a permanent state program.

If all of these steps are not completed in this timeframe, then we will fall under the USDA’s plan. If this were to happen, it is still possible for NCDA&CS to submit our state plan at a later date, even after the end of October. But it would mean that farmers who already have a license would need to apply for a license from the USDA, and then for another one from NCDA&CS once the permanent state plan was in place. It also means needing to remain compliant with licensing programs that may have differing requirements.

As we approach the October deadline, it seems increasingly likely that we will end up under the USDA’s plan, at least for some time. We know that this adds another level of uncertainty at a time when so much already seems uncertain. We will continue to post updates as they become available.

Additional Information

USDA’s Domestic Hemp Production Program

Recorded webinar by the USDA on the Domestic Hemp Production Program

Questions

If you have any questions about the content of this post, please submit them to industrialhemp@ncsu.edu. We are working remotely, and are still available to answer your questions!

Please do NOT submit them as a comment to this post, as we are unable to respond to questions submitted in this format.

If you have any questions about requirements to get a license, the license application, or THC testing, please submit them to NCDA&CS at IndustrialHempRequests@NCagr.gov

This post was written on April 20, 2020.

hemp growing in field

2019 NC hemp field