Editors note: Some information provided to The Herald by South Carolina and York County officials for a previous version of this article was incorrect.
There are 114 permitted legal hemp growers in South Carolina, according to Eva Moore, communications director for the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture had wrong information on its Web site concerning the definition of hemp until it was recently corrected, according to Moore at the agriculture department. The site previously stated “marijuana is the flower of the plant and hemp is the fibers.” Moore said that information is incorrect and has been removed from the agency’s Web site.
Prosecutors have given York County stores a deadline to remove hemp products from shelves that officials say are illegal.
The deadline is midnight Wednesday, said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett.
The decision came after a Tuesday meeting of heads of York County law enforcement agencies and the county drug unit, Brackett said. The S.C. Attorney General has said in an opinion that aside from licensed growers of legal hemp, it is illegal to possess hemp in South Carolina, Brackett said.
Yet retailers were confused about what is legal.
“We are hoping people get rid of it and no one gets charged,” Brackett said of the deadline decision. “We are trying to be reasonable and give people a chance to get rid of these products.”
One-hundred-fourteen licensing permits for growing Hemp have been issued in South Carolina, said Eva Moore, communications director the for the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
Possession of hemp products without one of those licenses is illegal, Brackett said.
“According to the opinion of Attorney General Alan Wilson dated July 10, the possession of hemp flower without a license is illegal in South Carolina.
“Pursuant to this opinion, effective 11:59 pm Aug. 7, all unprocessed hemp products must be removed from stores and may not be offered for sale or possessed. Hemp products possessed unlawfully are subject to seizure as contraband and may possibly result in criminal charges.”
The decision does not affect places that sell legitimate and legal cannabidiol (CBD), Brackett said in the statement.
“This opinion does not impact the possession or sale of legal CBD oil or other processed CBD products such as lotions which may continue to be lawfully possessed or sold,” the statement said.
The decision was also sent out to all law enforcement agencies in York County, which includes the York County Sheriff’s Office, Rock Hill Police Department, municipal departments in York, Fort Mill and Clover, and the Winthrop University Police Department.
“All law enforcement in York County is on the same page,” Brackett said.
The decision by York County prosecutor, police and law enforcement came after an opinion from South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson’s office was requested by State Law Enforcement Division officials, after a law was passed allowing permits to grow industrial hemp. Brackett said that opinion makes it clear it is illegal to possess hemp without a license.
Robert Kittle, spokesman for S.C. Attorney General’s Office, said in an emailed statement to The Herald that the attorney general’s office was deferring to local law enforcement to look at each situation individually.
“We defer to law enforcement, in a given situation, based on the relevant facts and circumstances, to decide whether something is considered raw or unprocessed hemp. That’s a finding of fact that’s beyond the scope of an opinion of our office,” Kittle said in the statement to The Herald.
Hemp in industrial use is used in the manufacture of textiles, rope and other products.
According to S.C. Department of Agriculture, hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa, and they differ in concentrations of THC.
The agriculture department states on its website: “Legally, THC levels determine whether the substance is considered an agricultural product or a regulated drug. The new S.C. law defines industrial hemp as any part of the plant with a THC concentration that does not exceed .3% on a dried weight basis. Anything above that is considered marijuana and is illegal in the state.”
Last week, a few police agencies in the state, including Anderson County, made hemp product arrests.