A Win for Hemp in Court, and What it (May possibly) Imply for North Carolina | Ward and Smith, P.A.


The hemp and cannabidiol (“CBD”) industries currently face substantial uncertainty, and they lack clear Federal guidelines, regulations, and guidance inside which governments and companies can safely operate.

That dearth of guidance has, to some degree, left person states to wrestle with how very best to regulate and manage the production and sale of hemp and hemp-derived merchandise inside their personal borders. At the epicenter of this struggle to address and regulate hemp in North Carolina is “smokable hemp.”

Exactly where Do Issues Stand in North Carolina?

When we final commented on the state of legislative efforts in North Carolina, the Property of Representatives – along with neighborhood and state law enforcement agencies and county district attorneys – have been fighting tough to kill the smokable hemp marketplace in our state. The proposal set forth in the existing version of the NC Farm Act of 2019 (“SB 315”) seeks to quickly ban and reclassify smokable hemp as marijuana (the Senate version of the bill incorporated a ban as effectively but on a significantly additional delayed timeline), and to topic its cultivation, sale, possession, and consumption to the identical criminal and civil penalties as these for marijuana. The arguments and justifications for this ban have shifted more than time, but frequently contain: that failing to ban smokable hemp will produce “de facto” marijuana legalization in our state that hemp and marijuana are indistinguishable in look and smell that law enforcement will shed probable lead to for drug-connected searches and seizures and that they will have to buy high priced gear to execute THC evaluation in crime labs that they will have to retire or retrain drug-sniffing canines (yes – this is apparently additional vital to Property Republicans than the livelihood of our farmers and citizens’ civil liberties) that officers will have to be retrained and assigned to other jobs inside their departments and a common unwillingness to police and enforce marijuana laws differently in the future.

Given that then, added modifications have been produced to SB 315 – none of which are market-friendly – and the bill was passed and authorized by the Property by a vote of 63 to 48. Amongst other points, the revised Property version of SB 315:

  • A lot more broadly defines the technical definition of “smokable hemp” to imply all “harvested raw or dried hemp plant material, like hemp buds or hemp flowers, hemp cigars, and hemp cigarettes.” This overly broad, sweeping definition seems to cover and contain the complete hemp plant after it is harvested.
  • Classifies smokable hemp as marijuana and criminalizes the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, delivery, sale, buying, or possession of smokable hemp in our state. Violations are punishable by civil and criminal penalties, like feasible prosecution for a Class I felony.

Luckily, SB 315 is not law. The North Carolina Division of Agriculture and the North Carolina Senate – particularly Senator Brent Jackson – have continued to showcase their help for the hemp and CBD industries. Following its passage in the Property, SB 315 was quickly referred to the Committee on Guidelines and Operations of the Senate, and there have been no indications so far that the bill will be regarded for a concurrence vote this session – let alone be finalized, passed, and sent to Governor Cooper for signature or veto.

The Struggle is Genuine

North Carolina is not alone in its struggle. Other states are also thinking about – and some have passed – legislative bans that, in impact, criminalize the production, sale, transportation, and possession of smokable hemp. Indiana is 1 such state. In response to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the “2018 Farm Bill”), Indiana enacted and signed into law Senate Enrolled Act No. 516 (“SEA 516”) on May well two, 2019.

SEA 516 adopted the 2018 Farm Bill’s definition of hemp. Having said that, SEA 516 also criminalizes the manufacture, finance, delivery, and possession of smokable hemp, which it defines as “a solution containing not additional than 3-tenths % (.three%) delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), like precursors and derivatives of THC, in a type that makes it possible for THC to be introduced into the human physique by inhalation of smoke.” The definition of smokable hemp in SEA 516 especially incorporates “hemp bud” and “hemp flower.”

On June 28, 2019, a group of hemp market plaintiffs filed suit (the “Indiana Lawsuit”) in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (the “Federal Court”), difficult the constitutionality of SEA 516’s smokable hemp provisions on the basis that they are preempted by federal law. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction that would temporarily halt Indiana’s enforcement of the smokable hemp ban pending the outcome of the case. The State opposed that request, and the parties briefed their positions and presented their arguments to the Federal Court for consideration.

On September 13, 2019, the Federal Court granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction (the “Preliminary Order”)[1]. In undertaking so, at least for the time becoming, the Federal Court has prohibited the State of Indiana from enforcing the portions of SEA 516 that criminalize the manufacture, financing, delivery, or possession of smokable hemp. It is vital to bear in mind that the Preliminary Order is not a permanent or “final” injunction and the Indiana Lawsuit is nonetheless ongoing. But, the Preliminary Order is strongly worded and appears to forecast an ultimate outcome that favors the hemp and CBD industries.

How Does the Indiana Lawsuit Impact Us?

Just like Indiana’s SEA 516, North Carolina’s SB 315 adopts a definition of “smokable hemp” that differs from the definition of “hemp” set forth in the 2018 Farm Bill. SB 315 classifies smokable hemp as “marijuana,” and in undertaking so, attempts to criminalize the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, delivery, buy, or possession of smokable hemp in North Carolina. These actions seem to be expressly preempted by Federal law. They also preclude the transportation of hemp or hemp merchandise in or by way of North Carolina in direct contravention of the 2018 Farm Bill’s express prohibition on restricting the transportation of hemp and its derivatives in interstate commerce.

SB 315’s restrictions on smokable hemp also seem to violate conflict preemption principles. In the Preliminary Order, the Federal Court states that “the plain language of the 2018 Farm Bill, as effectively as statements from its legislative sponsors, reflect Congress’s intent to de-stigmatize and legalize all low-THC hemp, like its derivatives and extracts, and to treat hemp as a regulated agricultural commodity in the United States.” Provisions of law that seek to criminalize the manufacture, distribution, dispensing, delivery, buying, or possession of smokable hemp (like hemp bud and hemp flower) – “hemp derivatives of the type especially legalized below the 2018 Farm Bill – frustrates these congressional purposes and objectives.”

Additional, the Preliminary Order indicates that the anti-preemption provision of the 2018 Farm Bill only applies to hemp production, which suggests that states can enforce laws “prohibiting the increasing of hemp” inside their borders. As noted by the Federal Court in its Preliminary Order, states (like, North Carolina) are free of charge to spot limits on the acreage that can be utilised to develop hemp inside their borders or to dictate the sort of seeds that can be utilised or planted by growers. But, states could not pass laws that interfere with the proper to transport in interstate commerce hemp – like hemp derivatives like “hemp buds” and “hemp flower” – that has been lawfully made. SB 315’s smokable hemp provisions, as they stand currently, do just that.

The Preliminary Order also discredits several of the arguments raised to date by opponents of smokable hemp in North Carolina, like:

  • That there is no proof that Congress ever contemplated, let alone had the intention of, legalizing smokable hemp with passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

The Federal Court dismissed this argument by stating that “[t]he 2018 Farm Bill’s expansion of the federal definition of hemp and removal of all low-THC hemp from the federal list of controlled substances evinces a clear congressional objective to legalize all types of low-THC hemp, like” smokable hemp. This evaluation can be very easily applied to arguments raised by Property Republicans and law enforcement groups that, for the duration of the 2015 legislative session, our Basic Assembly never ever contemplated the legalization of smokable hemp when it passed the industrial hemp analysis pilot plan authorizing legislation.

  • That legalization of smokable hemp (or a failure to re-criminalize smokable hemp) will produce substantial obstacles for law enforcement agencies to enforce and prosecute North Carolina’s laws against marijuana.

In response to almost identical arguments and public policy considerations raised in the Indiana Lawsuit, the Federal Court recognized that “the truth that neighborhood law enforcement could need to have to adjust techniques and instruction in response to modifications in federal law is not a enough basis for enacting unconstitutional legislation.”

So What Comes Subsequent?

Market advocates and opponents alike will continue to monitor the Indiana Lawsuit. With restricted case law to rely upon, the Federal Court’s final choice, although non-binding, will most likely have a ripple impact in North Carolina and other jurisdictions across the nation. For now, our hope is that the North Carolina Senate will continue to refuse a concurrence vote on the Property version of SB 315 – and, that the Preliminary Order will chill added efforts (like these occurring in North Carolina) to classify “smokable hemp” as marijuana or to otherwise ban, restrict, or criminalize possession of the plant.


[1] C. Y. Wholesale, Inc. et al., v. Eric Holcomb, Governor, in his official capacity, et al., S.D. Ind., No. 1:19-cv-02659-SEB-TAB (Doc. 31) (September 13, 2019).


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