It was a typical beginning to a routine column by Chris Roberts in 2015.
"To meet California's most electric politician last Friday, the entrepreneurs and workers in the heartland of the country's fastest-growing industry donned Carhartt work jeans and wide-brimmed sun hats, in some cases still dirty from the morning's work in the family cannabis patch. . ."
Roberts was our regular cannabis reporter at the SF Weekly, the San Francisco-based newspaper I edited back in 2015, about three years before cannabis became fully legal in California on Jan. 1 of this year.
In the excerpt above, Roberts — who now writes for Cannabis Now, among other media outlets — was reporting on California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's trip up to Humboldt County, just north of the Bay Area, where as much as 70 percent of the nation's marijuana has been cultivated for decades. In the years since the state legalized medicinal uses of marijuana in 1996, Humboldt County had reckoned with how it would transition from an outlaw market to a legitimate player in an industry that now stands to generate billions in tax revenue for California.
It made sense that we would have a dedicated cannabis reporter at the SF Weekly. Cannabis is a major industry in California.
At Creative Loafing, we've never needed a regular cannabis reporter — until now.
It all started in 2015, when then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law HB766, which allowed people with intractable epilepsy to use CBD oil, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid derived from cannabis plants and reported to have important medicinal uses including, according to many advocates, relieving conditions ranging from depression to arthritis to diabetes.
Then last year, North Carolina allowed an industrial hemp pilot program based on the Federal 2014 Farm Bill's provisions for U.S. hemp production. Hemp and marijuana are both members of the same species, Cannabis sativa L., although hemp is non-psychoactive and has been used for centuries to produce fabrics and oils for lotions and other products.
For years, hemp had been lumped in with marijuana and made illegal. Now that it's no longer illegal, it's become a hot topic.
That hasn't kept misinformation about hemp from continuing to ooze into the culture. As recently as two years ago, a Charlotte Observer story on hemp carried the ridiculous headline, "Hemp farms in Rowan County? Dude, farmers are high on the idea." How could farmers be high on the idea of hemp farming when hemp has absolutely nothing to do with getting high? I don't know the answer to that. You'd have to ask a Charlotte Observer editor.
What I do know is that it's time for Charlotte to have at least one dedicated reporter to provide you with the facts on the ever-changing cannabis culture in our state and nation. And we're talking Cannabis in its most sweeping sense — not just issues surrounding recreational and medicinal uses of marijuana, but also the cultivation, production and sales of its cousin, hemp.
Rhiannon Fionn is the natural person for the job. She's Creative Loafing's long-time reporter on environmental issues and political demonstrations. She knows who to talk to when it comes to getting the science behind environmental concerns, and she has a full list of contacts in the political, legislative, advocacy and activist worlds.
In Rhiannon's weekly Carolina Cannabis Now column, which debuts June 28, she will be reporting on the spectrum of cannabis issues in North Carolina, from evolving policies regarding the now-legal cultivation and sales of hemp, to murky areas such as medicinal uses of cannabis, to full-on recreational uses of psychoactive cannabis products and the (hopefully) changing laws governing it. She will speak with people ranging from farmers and entrepreneurs to politicians to local members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML.
Get a sneak peek at the sort of news Rhiannon will be following in this week's cover story, in which she reports on N.C. Rep. Kelly Alexander's sixth attempt to get a marijuana-related bill on to the House floor in Raleigh. His most recent, filed May 23, is House Bill 994, called simply "Reform Marijuana Laws."
"It's a wonderful bill," Corey Hedgepeth, director of the Charlotte chapter of NORML, tells Fionn. To Hedgepeth decriminalization is "a no-brainer at this point."
It is not yet a no-brainer to most members of North Carolina's Republican-dominated General Assembly. But as times change — as Republicans like John Boehner, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, happily join the nation's growing marijuana industry — momentum is on the side of the Hedgepeths of the world.
And CL will be closely following this issue as things evolve here. So enjoy Rhiannon's cover story — and keep up with her Carolina Cannabis Now column beginning June 28.