HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - While it seems the hemp industry is taking off across the nation, South Carolina now questions the use of certain hemp products.
On July 10, the S.C. Attorney General’s office issued an opinion back to the State Law Enforcement Division on how the current law allows authorities to move forward in prosecuting those who do not follow state hemp guidelines.
The opinion requested by SLED highlights a need for clarification on the laws that refer to “unprocessed or raw hemp material.” State guidelines define that to be “raw plant material, including non-sterilized hemp seeds that is not considered a hemp product.”
According to the AG’s opinion, "the statute makes it clear that the mere possession of raw unprocessed hemp or hemp not in a finished hemp product without a license is unlawful.”
The crackdown follows recent concerns from law enforcement in differentiating between smokeable hemp and its illegal cousin, marijuana. For CBD business owners in Horry County and throughout the entire state, SLED is questioning what’s called “hemp flower.” It has a federally legal THC content of less than 0.3, which is the chemical compound that would produce a “high.”
“It looks the same, so it’s not going to be easy to identify as law enforcement, but they’re so different. It’s been genetically enhanced to cut down the THC to .3 or lower for the delta 9, which is the part of THC that makes you high,” said Eric Franks, owner/operator of Life Leaf Medical CBD Center LLC.
USA Hemp is a vertically integrated hemp company based out of Portland, Ore., and has a storefront located at Coastal Grand Mall.
Elber Martins, director of business development for USA Hemp, said “hemp flower” is a product that many people smoke and his store no longer carries smokeable hemp products, which previously accounted for roughly 30 percent of the business’ revenue.
“The people that are coming here for the flowers or the pre-rolls are people you wouldn’t even think of. This is your mother, your grandmother that’s purchasing this product because she’s not smoking anymore cigarettes because it’s killed her lungs so she’s going into hemp,” said Martins
Other CBD shops like USA Hemp recently started pulling smokable hemp products from its shelves and are playing it safe to avoid any potential consequences. Still, they too have many questions.
“We put our flowers away and our hemp cigarettes away because obviously we don’t want us to get a penalty for it, but I feel like the local police are not able to distinguish between hemp and cannabis flower, and, also, testing," Martins said. "Local police are working with outdated equipment and devices. So, I think we need to invest more into new equipment in order to help the community and local police.”
They say it’s a product people smoke to feel CBD’s natural effects on the body, which has gained popularity over the past few months. Now, however, they’re concerned about the impact it has on the future of the industry.
“It’s definitely hurting us but definitely hurting more on the consumer side too, and the farm especially. Farmers are coming back from recent tariffs or natural disasters and they’re putting savings into this crop and the next thing you know, the feds are removing that from them. So it’s hurting everybody from consumers to retailers to farmers. So, it’s the whole line of chain that’s getting hurt,” said Martins.
The opinion from the AG’s office leaves those enforcement answers with the individual law enforcement entities. The opinion acknowledges that the Hemp Farming Act of 2019 was not drafted with the greatest of clarity and needs legislative or judicial clarification.”
“Hemp is here to stay, it’s not going anywhere. So, we need to just all comply and work together in order to help the consumer, because that’s the most important. That’s why we’re here. We just want to make sure we have the right resources to go to and ask or the right equipment for local police,” said Martins.
WMBF News reached out to the Horry County Sheriff’s Office to hear from law enforcement about this and are still waiting for a response.
WMBF News also reached out to local lawmakers, who declined to comment until further actions are taken.