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South Carolina Struggling With Legal Hemp Laws

Fresh agricultural hemp grows in the countryside
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 29, 2019

"It is unlawful for a person to cultivate, handle, or process hemp in this State without a hemp license issued by the Department pursuant to the state plan." Seems simple enough, right? But it turns out defining "hemp" is not to easy. So, knowing when you need a license, and what can be handled, processed, and sold can get a little tricky.

South Carolinians learned this lesson when a legal opinion from the state attorney general, designed to clarify matters, only muddied the water when it comes to legal and illegal hemp.

Cannabis Clarity

The opinion from Attorney General Alan Wilson was meant to align several potentially conflicting laws, including previous federal and state bans on marijuana, the federal 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp growing, and South Carolina's Hemp Farming Act of 2019. State law enforcement was seeking guidance on whether unlicensed possession or selling of raw hemp was legal, and, if not, what the potential penalties may be.

The AG stated a license is required to legally handle raw hemp, but that processed hemp, or hemp products, are legal without one. However, the opinion didn't define the difference between raw and processed hemp, and left it unclear whether the sale of smokable hemp, or flower, legal. State prosecutors gave stores a deadline to remove "illegal" hemp earlier this month, and police have confiscated hemp flower from at least two stores in Anderson County, according to the Greenville News.

Cannabis Cops

South Carolina's Department of Agriculture has issued 114 licenses to hemp farmers in the state, says agency spokeswoman Eva Moore, and the department website indicates it is no longer taking applications for 2019. But even distinguishing between legal hemp and illegal pot is not so easy for law enforcement, much less between processed and unprocessed hemp products.

"The problem with this type of incident is that (if) it smells like marijuana, looks like marijuana, and field tests for the presence of THC, we must act as it is marijuana and make a seizure," Anderson County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Sgt. J.T. Foster told the Greenville News. Just one more thing to think about before starting up your own hemp farm.

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