North Carolina Hemp Overview


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What Is Hemp?

Hemp, per federal law, refers to any part of the Cannabis sativa plant, including seeds, isomers, cannabinoids, extracts, and all derivatives with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis. The hemp plant is often confused with the marijuana plant due to the similar smell and appearance shared by the plants. Although both plants look alike, the main difference lies in the quantity of the psychoactive compound - THC, found in them. Marijuana has more THC content (greater than 0.3%, with an average of about 10%) and less CBD content, while hemp has more CBD content and THC levels lower or equal to 0.3%.

Hemp is also often referred to as industrial hemp by many people. Although both terms may be used interchangeably, industrial hemp refers to hemp plants grown for fiber in industrial applications, such as in making plastics, biofuels, or textiles. Hemp plant parts, and their derivatives, consumed for nourishment and medicinal purposes include hemp seed, hemp hearts, hemp flower, hemp milk, and hemp oil. Hemp seeds are seeds of the hemp plant which can be cooked, roasted, or eaten raw. Hemp hearts are hemp plant seeds that have been removed from their shells. Hemp flowers contain a high level of terpenes (which provide the hemp plant with flavor and smell) and a high level of cannabigerol, which are considered to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties. Hemp flowers may be consumed by vaping, smoking, eating, or as supplements. Hemp milk is also obtained from hemp seeds and is often used as a substitute for dairy milk.

Is Hemp Legal in North Carolina?

Yes. The 2014 Farm Bill was the first step toward removing the long-standing federal restrictions on hemp cultivation in the United States. The 2014 Farm Bill established the Hemp Research Pilot Program, which allowed for hemp cultivation for research purposes only. Under the bill, hemp may be cultivated by institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture. Still, hemp production was subject to state or territorial laws and regulations and was not legalized under federal law or for interstate commerce. Furthermore, the Drug Enforcement Administration's interpretation of the 1970 Controlled Substance Act (CSA) precluded farmers from fully participating in hemp pilot programs.

In response to the 2014 bill, the North Carolina General Assembly passed SB 313. SB 313 acknowledged the legitimacy and importance of industrial hemp research in compliance with the 2014 Farm Bill and to promote increased agricultural employment for farmers in the State of North Carolina. Hence, SB 313 legalized the production of industrial hemp in the state.

SB 313 was followed by HB 992 in 2016, which created the Industrial Hemp Commission to establish the regulations and licensing system required to comply with federal law. As a result of HB 992, the state permitted industrial hemp research initiatives to be administered by the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the North Carolina State University. Consequently, these two institutions were approved to grow hemp for research for studies on the commercial applications of industrial hemp.

State and federal legislations require the issuance of a license for participation in the industrial hemp pilot program. North Carolina growers seeking to produce industrial hemp must submit applications for licenses to the Industrial Hemp Commission. The Industrial Hemp Commission was responsible for drafting rules for participation in the state industrial hemp pilot program.

In 2018, the United States Congress passed a more expansive agricultural bill, allowing commercial hemp cultivation. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation was no longer restricted to pilot programs studying market interest in hemp and hemp-derived products. It removed industrial hemp from the DEA Schedule I Substances list and explicitly permitted the transportation of hemp products across state lines. The 2018 Farm Bill did not restrict the possession, transport, or sale of hemp-derived products, provided the products are produced in a manner complying with the law.

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, both state and federal governments share regulatory power over hemp cultivation and production. A state's plan to regulate and license hemp may only begin after the USDA approves the state's industrial hemp program plan submitted to the Secretary of the USDA. In states that choose not to develop a hemp regulatory program, the USDA will develop a program requiring hemp cultivators in such states to apply for licenses and comply with the federally run program.

In June 2022, Governor Roy Cooper signed SB 455 into law, removing hemp from the state’s Controlled Substance Act. SB 455 aligned North Carolina hemp laws with the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp in the United States.

What Hemp Products are Legal in North Carolina?

Hemp products have been legal in North Carolina since 2015 when the state's General Assembly passed the hemp pilot program bill. Hemp parts and products, including but not limited to fiber, food, seed, fuel, plastics, seed meal, oil, cloth, cordage, paper, paint, particleboard, and verified propagules for cultivation that do not contain more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis are legal in North Carolina. Hence, residents can purchase hemp-derived tinctures, edibles, and topicals containing no more than the stipulated THC limit.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in North Carolina?

North Carolina's hemp legalization law (SB 455) contains no statutes permitting municipalities to restrict hemp cultivation within their jurisdictions. However, note that zoning restrictions may impact hemp cultivation locations in some municipalities. Hence, it is recommended that you verify with the relevant local government authority for any zoning ordinance that may impact hemp cultivation in your area.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in North Carolina

Until January 1, 2022, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued hemp cultivation licenses in North Carolina. However, persons seeking to obtain hemp grower or processor licenses in North Carolina since then must apply to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to obtain hemp production licenses.

To be eligible to obtain a hemp production license from the USDA, you must not have a felony conviction for a drug-related offense in the past ten years. The application may be completed online or by mail.

To apply online, you must create an account on the USDA Hemp eManagement Platform (HeMP). You may watch the USDA eAuth sign-up video to familiarize yourself with the account creation process. Note that you must submit FBI criminal background records for yourself and other key participants named in your application. For more information on obtaining a criminal background record from the FBI, check the criminal history report page on the FBI website. USDA requires that the FBI report be issued within 60 days of your application submission date.

For further information on obtaining a USDA hemp production license, check the USDA Producer HeMP User Guide or call the Department at (202) 720-2491. You may also contact USDA by emailing

How Much Does a License to Grow or Process Hemp Cost in North Carolina?

Until 2022, a North Carolina hemp license costs $250 for less than 50 acres of cultivation or processing area, $500 for more than 50 acres, and an additional fee of $2 per 1,000 square feet of greenhouse or acre. However, since hemp licenses in the state are now issued by the USDA, no fees are required for the license. A USDA-issued hemp production license is valid for three years.

How to Grow Hemp in North Carolina

Hemp is an annual crop that grows well in most locations except in desert and mountainous regions. The hemp plant thrives in warm climates and grows best in well-drained, high-organic-matter soils. Typically, hemp seeds are planted directly where the plants will grow rather than in containers for transplanting. You should plant them after the average date of the last frost has passed. Established hemp plants are somewhat resistant to drought, but seedlings need watering for the first six weeks anytime the soil is dry.

To grow hemp in North Carolina, follow these steps:

  • Determine your grow area: Hemp is well suited for industrial applications. Hence, if you seek to make the cultivation profitable, it is recommended that you use at least 50 acres for planting
  • Obtain good quality hemp seeds: Seeds with poor genetics will likely ruin your yields. Therefore, look for good quality hemp seed sources to obtain your seeds
  • Test your soil: Ensure that the humidity, temperature, and nutrient levels are ideal before commencing seeding. Hemp grows best when the soil temperature is between 46 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH level of the soil should also be between 6.0 and 7.5. You may get a soil test kit from a local store to assess your soil
  • Plant the seeds: Dig shallow holes measuring less than three-quarters of an inch deep and put one seed per hole with a four-inch distance between adjacent holes
  • Water the seeds and keep them warm: Hemp typically needs about 20-30 inches of rainfall during its growth cycle. Irrigation may be required if your plants cannot get this amount of rain. If you are cultivating indoors, hemp plants need 18-24 hours of light per day in their vegetative state and 12-16 hours of light per day when they enter the flowering stage
  • Provide deficient nutrients: The nutrients necessary for a healthy harvest depend on your soil test results. Potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen are essential nutrients for good yields. You may also use pesticides to protect your crop from diseases. The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States has approved 58 biopesticides and one conventional pesticide for use on hemp plants
  • Harvest your crop: Your hemp plants will reach the flowering stage in 90-100 days. Typically, hemp cultivated for CBD will be ready for harvest about 120 days after seeding. The whole duration of a hemp plant's life cycle spans 70-140 days, depending on the climate and the manner of cultivation

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in North Carolina?

Although North Carolina lawmakers intended to prohibit smokable hemp in the state, the final version of the North Carolina Farm Act passed in the summer of 2020 contained no restrictions on hemp smoking. Hence, smokable hemp flowers are legal in North Carolina. While brick-and-mortar stores may sell hemp flowers, most shops opt not to offer smokable hemp flowers due to their physical similarity with marijuana. However, smokable hemp flowers can be readily purchased from online vendors in the state. Businesses outside the state can also ship hemp flowers for buyers ordering the product online.

Hemp vs. THC

THC is a psychotropic chemical compound found in both hemp and marijuana. Unlike in marijuana, THC is found in hemp only in trace amounts. Generally, any Cannabis sativa plant containing less than 0.3% THC is called hemp. All hemp-derived THC products containing no more than 0.3% may be sold or consumed in North Carolina.

Hemp vs. CBD

Although CBD is contained in marijuana, it is more commonly derived from hemp. CBD is one of the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, of which hemp is a type. Hemp is any Cannabis sativa plant with 0.3% or less THC. Hemp-derived CBD is legal and may be purchased and consumed by North Carolina residents.

Hemp Applications

The hemp plant is well known for the medicinal benefits that can be obtained from it and its derivatives. Less known, however, are its application in the production of:

  • Plastics: Several manufacturers are now making plastic from hemp in order to reduce the environmental damage caused by regular plastic. Hemp plastics are biodegradable in 3-6 months, giving them the possibility to be recycled indefinitely. These are bioplastics which means they are not made from fossil fuels; hence it does not produce carbon dioxide as it decomposes
  • Solar Panels: Currently, most solar panels are produced from silicon, a material that is costly and prone to damage. Graphene is also used to construct solar panels with more success than silicon, although its production is also expensive. On the other hand, hemp solar panels are easy to manufacture and are more durable and cost-effective than silicon- and graphene-based panels
  • Biofuel: Hemp can be used to make biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol. It can also be used as fuel in biomass power plants. Biofuels are renewable and biodegradable and do not produce emissions like traditional fuel types
  • Cosmetics: Hemp is often used in the production of beauty products for the treatment of skin conditions. The hemp seed contains a high content of oil, mainly unsaturated fatty acids, which have therapeutic effects on the human skin
  • Textiles: Hemp fabric or textiles are produced from industrial hemp fiber. Hemp has clear benefits over synthetic textile materials like acrylic, polyester, nylon, and spandex since it is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable substance. Fabrics produced from hemp are unlikely to irritate the skin

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North Carolina Hemp Overview