The NC Farm Act: Four months, seven editions, at least a dozen hours of committee hearings and legislative staff time, reams of paper, hundreds of miles of travel by the public, some from as far away as the mountains — and today the bill is back to its original Senate form.
“Why is the ag committee chair [Rep. Jimmy Dixon] taking a different position than earlier in the process?” Rep. Chuck McGrady said in the House Judiciary Committee this morning. “I’m confused.”
The Proposed Committee Substitute was distributed to lawmakers last night.
Rep. Dixon, who recently called marijuana a “hellish gateway drug,” has been a hemp hardliner, and largely responsible for the House holdup on smokable hemp. Meanwhile, Sen. Brent Jackson favors smokable hemp because it would economically benefit farmers.
“Have you changed your view on hemp?” McGrady, a Henderson County Republican, asked Dixon.
“I’ve expressed my particular view very objectively throughout the process,” Dixon said, adding he had met with Jackson and interested parties about the measure. “I encourage you to vote for the bill.”
Most of the division has focused on the smokable hemp portion of the bill. Law enforcement has pleaded with legislators to prohibit smokable hemp because it’s difficult for officers to discern between it and marijuana. Farmers, though, say the concerns are overblown. If they can’t grow smokable products, they will be at an economic disadvantage compared with other states that do allow it.
CBD oil and similar extracts, plus rope, textiles, food products would be legal.
Hemp contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that induces a high.
For the past two months, Senate and House committees have fought, flipped and flopped. The ban on smokable hemp was to go into effect in December 2020, then 2019, and now it’s 2020 again. Smokable hemp was classified as a controlled substance, like marijuana. Now it’s not. There was language to study the issue of smokable hemp. That’s been struck.
Rep. Billy Richardson, a Cumberland County Democrat, complained that the bill the Judiciary Committee was presented with differed from the version that left House Agriculture three weeks ago.
“This is the process that we go through,” Dixon replied. “Positions change over time, as frequently happens.”
However, positions have not changed on other controversial sections of the bill:
- exempting hog farms that use or produce biogas from the state’s odor rules
- allowing hog farms that use anaerobic lagoons and digesters to expand even though there is a 20-year moratorium on new or expanded industrialized swine operations
- making secret many public records kept by local and state soil and water conservation districts in regards to industrialized livestock operations
Democrat Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill several times to strike the odor rule and expansion provisions.
“Since we continue to love the smell of breakfast, I ask you to oppose the amendment,” Dixon said.
The sealing of soil and water documents also alarmed some committee members. The language is a direct rebuke to attorneys and journalists that have used these documents either in court cases or in stories critical of hog farms.
“What’s the problem with making this available to the public?” Richardson said.
“The public can already get the information,” Dixon said. “From the local soil and water district office, the local Farm Services Agency Office, or they can contact my office.”
If the bill becomes law, none of those offices is required to provide the documents.
Rep. Rachel Hunt, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, attempted to strike the confidentiality provision. “In the spirit of transparency, the public needs to be aware of this information,” Hunt said. “This is a violation of the Sunshine Law.”
“We think there is plenty of sunshine,” Dixon said.