State lawmakers consider ban on smokable hemp

As lawmakers consider a proposal to ban smokable hemp, business owners, farmers, and users are pushing back.

"I was in shock because I know how it's helped me and I know how it's helped my family. I know how its helped my anxiety. I was in complete shock," said Jensy Diaz, the owner of Jensy Organics.

Diaz suffers from bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, and other ailments, and explained hemp has reduced her symptoms and eliminated the need for pills.

"After being on 14 medicines daily I got fed up of the side effects and all the complications I was getting with my medications," Diaz said.

Two months ago, her family started Jensy Organics, a Raleigh store which sells CBD and hemp. Business has been strong, with about 70 percent of their sales coming from smokable products. However, a ban could force them to close.

"It would be very hard to remain open without the smokables. Very, very hard," explained Diaz.

She said they understand the difficulty law enforcement faces in differentiating between legal hemp and marijuana, noting the similarities in appearance and smell.

Her company includes a certificate of analysis with products, and puts a sticker over bags to prevent tampering. They also make customers sign a waiver, explaining to them the product they are purchasing before leaving.

One of those customers is Amanda Fustonberg, who faces criminal charges stemming from an incident at her home in April. She said she was smoking legal hemp flower insider her home with the window open at the time.

"I had the cops not even knock on my door, but go ahead and talk through my window and ask me where is the weed," recalled Furstonberg.

She has been charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and is due in court next month. At the time, she said she was using products purchased from a different Raleigh store and out-of-state location.

Furstonberg began using the products after she was involved in a car crash in February, and said the products have helped minimize the number of pills she's needed.

"(People) are using it and it's working. So why are we going to take it away? It had me all tore up, I couldn't believe it," Furstonberg said of the proposed ban.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, which can contain up to .3 percent THC, the main compound in marijuana. In a state like North Carolina, which has some of the strictest marijuana possession laws, that can prove difficult for authorities to discern the differences as hemp and marijuana look and smell the same.

A bill being pushed by state senators would ban smokable hemp beginning in December 2020, and impose civil penalties of up to $2,500 on anyone who manufactures, sells, or produces smokable hemp.

Last week, the State House Agricultural Committee approved an amendment to bump the proposed ban date up to December 2019. The move is backed by several law enforcement agencies, including the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police.

In a statement to ABC 11, they write:

NCACP joined with SBI, NC Sheriffs' Assn, State Crime Lab, and NC District Attorneys Conference to call for an early prohibition on sale or possession of smokable hemp in NC, no later than Dec. 1, 2019. The problem is that because hemp is now legal to produce and market (concerning which law enforcement has no issue), the emergence of the sale of loose hemp, or hemp cigarettes and cigars (shorthand labelled smokable hemp) has made the laws against possession or sale of marijuana virtually impossible. This is because hemp and marijuana are the same plant and are indistinguishable in appearance and odor. The only difference is the level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient present in marijuana but present in only minute quantities in hemp.

Appearance and odor of marijuana are the legally recognizable justification for law enforcement to make a charge or to search further for quantities of marijuana or other contraband. Without this justification, law enforcement can take no action to enforce marijuana laws. It's more fundamental than a small bag of material in an automobile- odor and appearance can be the basis of search warrants to discover trafficking in large amounts or an indoor marijuana growing operation. K-9 dogs trained to detect marijuana are also now useless (there are about 800 in the state).

We have no problem with the other products from hemp including CBD oil or the other many uses, or the transport of smokable hemp to other states. We advocate for a ban on the possession or sale of smokable hemp no later than Dec. 1, 2019. As long as smokable hemp is legal, marijuana laws are virtually unenforceable.
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