First NC industrial Hemp Commission Draws Crowd

Hemp Oil photo source NCDA&CS.
Hemp Oil photo source NCDA&CS.

By Kay Whatley, Editor

The first NC industrial Hemp Commission (NCIHC) meeting was held at the state fairgrounds on November 1, 2016, at 2pm. In addition to the newly appointed Commissioners was Mr. Troxler, a Supreme Court Justice, and more than 60 people interested in the future of hemp in North Carolina.

Some came in suits, others in jeans or overalls, with the sign-in sheets showing farm reps, corporate representatives, and media. The crowd to see what this Commission will achieve at this inaugural public meeting, and to make comments on what they’d like to see happen.

The meeting room was standing room only, with more than a dozen last-minute attendees signing in at its start. Dozens leaned against the walls, as organizers scrambled to bring in more chairs.

The commission meeting was kicked off by Steve Troxler, NC Agriculture Commissioner.  He welcomed everyone and talked about how this was the start to get NC on the road to making NC the leading hemp farming state in the nation. He said that he knows from experience how much work is ahead of the commission before it can get farmers growing and making NC hemp products.

By law, Mr. Troxler was vice-chairman of the Commission until a chair could be chosen. He read this ethics statement on the agenda:

“Under the State Government Ethics Act, the chairman is required to remind all members of their duty to avoid conflicts of interest or appearances of conflicts of interest. If you have any conflict or appearance of conflict of interest with respect to any item on the agenda, please state this for the record and refrain from inappropriate participation on that item.”

Introductions were then made of the commission members, who each stood and introduced themselves. It was difficult to hear some of the introductory statements:

  • Dr. Guochen Yang, NC A&T State University (Governor appointed), who spoke of his university work.
  • Prof. Tom Melton, NCSU  (Governor appointed), who has served as Deputy Director for the NC Cooperative Extension Service.
  • Chief Tony Godwin, Town of Cary (Senate) brings his law enforcement experience to the commission.
  • Sheriff Sam Page, Rockingham County  (House appointed), talked about his 34 years of experience, and of his having an eye toward appropriate regulations.
  • Pat Short (Ag appointed), who has been a tobacco farmer for decades, currently doing research for a tobacco company.
  • Fen Rascoe  (Ag appointed), who has experience with other crops including soybeans.
  • Sandy Stewart (Commissioner’s designee)
  • Billy McLawhorn (Ag appointed)
  • Guy Carpenter (Ag appointed) spoke via laptop from another location. He will be working on agri-business and marketing for the Commission/industrial hemp.

Mr. Troxler then spoke regarding the Commission and research at universities working together. NC’s land grant universities will have the lead on researching Industrial Hemp to start. The university research is expected to help establish guidance for what Troxler called the industrial hemp emerging market. He believes that the NC industrial hemp industry will set the “gold standard for the nation.”

As the state’s soil and climate varies widely, research will be needed to find optimal growing practices. He expects the industrial hemp industry will start off like a “ball of fire,” encounter roadblocks, and persevere.

Before ending his remarks, Mr. Troxler designated Sandy Stewart as the Commission’s Vice Chair in his stead.

In a twist of forgotten protocol, Tom Melton nominated as chair and voted in as Chairman; however, the step of swearing in the commission members was determined to be needed first. Supreme Court Justice Paul Martin Newby stepped up in his official robes and as the appointees gathered in groups around three Bibles, Justice Newby swore in all commission members. He led them in the oath, whereby they swore before the gathered group and God to carry out their duties.

According to one of the assistants on-hand, one of the three Bible’s used for the swearing in ceremony was an 1893 Department of Agriculture Bible.

Oddly enough, the group was sworn in for the NC Hemp Commission; omission of the word “industrial” may have been an oversight.

The floor was then re-opened to nominate a Chairman, with Mr. Melton receiving a unanimous vote again.

Mr. Troxler turning the meeting over to Jon Lanier (NCDA&CS) and Ann Brown (NC Department of Justice) to talk about commission responsibilities. Ms. Brown spoke to the members about a list of classes that they would be required to complete during their first six months on the commission.  She also confirmed that their term would be two years.

A brief history of Cannabis — marijuana and industrial hemp — was reviewed, with a focus on legality over the years, and the new farm bill which opened up the door to industrial hemp pilot projects and research. NC laws were also covered.

The commission then heard a high-level overview of their duties, their need to set appropriate law enforcement notification systems in place, and a reiteration that anyone growing industrial hemp outside the pilot program would be breaking schedule 1 laws and there would be penalties.

While the commission has not yet set the rules for growing or for pilot program grower applications, statements were made repeatedly that the pilot was centered on NC State University and NC A&T.

Ann Brown also stated that the Department of Justice’s rules committee has to approve rules which are put forth by the Industrial Hemp Commission. She also said that review time-frame cannot be set, and may be 45 days or more after receipt.

At this point in the meeting, someone at the front of the room made a Call for Motion to limit public commentators to a maximum or three minutes. The motion carried and the limit was set.

Recommendation was then made by Troxler that, since the commission had authorization (by law) to hire two assisting positions, that those positions be opened as soon as possible — during the meeting, perhaps — to ensure that they had help with their work sooner rather than later.

Before taking a break, it was again reiterated that industrial hemp is still illegal to grow outside of commission permission/permit/allowance.

The meeting resumed after a 15-minute break with the majority of the crowd still present, and moving back into places was made more difficult by all the extra chairs that had been packed in earlier and groups along the walls.

It was recommended that the universities speak next on their research plans, as leads on the pilot program / research growing. Briefly, it was mentioned that NCSU crop scientists had been sent other states to gather information on industrial hemp testing used. For the coming season — hoped to be 2017 — it was hoped that procedures could be determined for plant growth regulating, potential uniform-height standards, plant/seed varieties accepted, pesticides available to conventional farmers, and seed availability. The College of Textiles, while not currently at the meeting, was mentioned as a group interested in joining the industrial hemp research.

Dr. Yang, NC A&T, shared that micropropagation is his specialty. “Baby plants,” he called them. He discussed the need for testing hemp as a cover crop, seed production, and harvest procedures. He mentioned testing varieties, testing for soil and climate across the state, with the hope of an end-of-year evaluation. His university already has millions in funding in place for these planned efforts. NC A&T’s Kannapolis site has the ability to do chemical testing — such as THC levels — and potentially exploring “value add” products or medications down the road. He also mentioned he recently patented a plant he propagated.

Vernon Cox (NCDA&CS) then spoke regarding industrial hemp seed acquisition. It was made clear that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) does not allow transport of seed across state lines. Seed has to be acquired through DEA-allowed seed sources. The DEA does allow import of seed from other countries, but requires paperwork. The state submitted DEA paperwork to register the NC land grand universities as seed importers. They have not yet been approved. When  approval can be secured, there will then be permit paperwork required to import seed from other counties. It is hoped that they can provide an update on this process at the next commission meeting.

No comments were made on individual grower rules, though there was a suggestion that they need to get an application together for growers. They may draw guidance from other states’ applications, which someone may have looked at already, with a hope to have a draft application form for review in the next commission meeting.

The meeting was then opened for a public comment period. Initially it was through that 60 people had signed up to make comments — at three minutes per person — but the number of people who wanted to speak ended up being about two dozen.

Following comments by corporate representatives, farmers, those interested in growing, and patients interested in medical options, the public comment period wrapped up after a final call for anyone wanting to speak.

A motion was made to adjourn; however, several commissioners wanted to add comments. These included:

  • A thank you to both helpers at the meeting.
  • A suggestion that the next meeting date be set quickly, and that fast action be taken to create job descriptions for the administrative help described in NC’s industrial hemp law. The motion was made, and carried, to give the Chair authority to draft a job description moving forwarded.
  • The citizens in attendance were recognized, and thanked for coming and educating commission members.
  • The site, NCagr.gov, was given and attendees told to watch the site for the date of the next meeting, or to sign up for future notices.

Briefly, the question was asked on estimated “revenue per acre” but the chair declined to give a number based on his knowledge of other states, as he said that there were too many variables that could change the number.

Motion to adjourn was made and carried at 4pm.

Public Commenters (Editor Notes)

Pardon my misspellings of names and companies in these rough notes.

Bob Crumly NCIHA chairman and founder. Also with Founders Hemp. Mentioned white paper that they produced. He feels that there are 6 aspects of regulations needed. Mentioned DEA statement of principles. Urged the members not to get locked in by DEA statements and allow for interstate seed and plants, so that growers can buy US (NC?) seed and not have to import from other countries. Issue on seed critical, he feels.

Melissa Linen, second commenter, mentioned touring the Spring Hope NC processing facility .

Burt James, bio region coop, fundraisers for commission, farmers group. Worked with Bob Crumly on the whitepaper. He mentioned Eastern NC farmers, and industrial hemp seed.

Scott Prother, farmer, CEO of a bio-pharma startup. Money-oriented comments. Wants pharma/med quality product including CBD from NC.

Dee Washington, co-op, Carolina Common Enterprise. Her interest is bio-diesel fuels research linked to the hemp industry, bio-based economy, and Bio-diesel for Schools.

Gary Barnett, Charlotte area farmers market and beekeeper. Sees hope for hemp farming.

Rachel Sarco from CFSA. They and their members interested in pilot project. Already work with land grant universities in NC. See industrial hemp as opp for organic growers, for human food or animal feeds.

Eric Mathis, part of KY team that worked on legislation passing there. Worked on hemp in other states too. Now here in what he calls his home state.

Scott Lewis, epilepsy from plant oil. Small group of people, benefits to kids and adults. Asks comm to take immediate action for those registered with NC with intractable epilepsy. Call for compassion and fast effort.

Steven Taylor, Campbell University student, researcher. Urges inclusion of other research institutions in the state pilot program.

Jack Whitley, owns 7th gen Wayne County farm which is leased. Need crops with cash flow to keep family farms. Met with NCIHA. Transform NC farm economy, he believes. Tobacco processors and farmers have been winding down, open to hemp option with minor equipment changes. He is here from Greensboro NC. Brings up need for low cost to farmers, critical to make NC industrial hemp happen.

Travis Varner, farming, field testing in other state. Testing fees need to be reasonable for farmers. Spun off multiple questions to be addressed as the commission moves forward.

Garret Brewer, ag biz senior at state school. Make sure opportunity available for small farmers, and competition. He also requested the list of donors who gave to the $200,000 state fund for the NCIHC, so with transparency all can ensure donors don’t get licenses over other interested growers. Also mentioned testing needs to be set up so as not to hurt growers (cost, time, delays).

Brian Norris, Carolina Hemp company out of Asheville NC. They currently sell CBD and other hemp products. Talked of growing and selling hemp and CBD like selling vegetables or Advil. “Someday it’ll be easier and we will all look back and laugh.”

Mr. Wild, professional engineer interested in building materials from hemp like Hempcrete, Linda Booker, his fiancé, produced the film, Bringing It Home.

Rachel Grantham, agronomist at Smithfield foods. She and husband have farmland. Sees farmers struggle in commodity market, sees increased opps for new and existing small farmers.

Elliot Galdi, hybrid health in Durham. Work in the CBD space. Give significant consideration to organic farming. More hemp across U.S. Needed. Most organic hemp coming from other countries, sending dollars overseas. If develop on organic, can keep dollars here.

John Vollmer, next generation of a family farm in Bunn NC, he is currently in college. His viewpoint is from a farming family, looking into the future. Created company at Western Carolina on hemp seed. First step in process is getting rid of industrial hemp stigma. Wants to talk with commission members who are doing marketing, and helping with education on what industrial hemp is, is not.

John Ivey, coop ext agent, also a farmer. Fees and regulations important. He is “a farmer with a day job.” Reasonable prices for permits necessary to help small farmers.

Tyler Cramarty, with the Life by Hemp Company in Raleigh NC. Following progress in state, and looking forward to industry ahead.

About Kay Whatley 1637 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.
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