WILKES COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Andy Stancil never considered that one day he would be a cannabis grower, but in the summer of 2018 all of that changed.
"We're pumped up about it," Stancil said.
He is not growing a patch to hide from law enforcement or to sell on the street to people who smoke it. Instead, he is part of North Carolina's Industrial Hemp Pilot Program.
His patch in Wilkes County is small, about 75 feet by 75 feet, but it's a start he says. His is the first legal cannabis field in Wilkes County.
The statewide program is designed to see if the growing of the plant would be commercially viable in North Carolina.
"Potentially an alternative to tobacco," said Phillip Wilson of the NC Agriculture Department.
Cannabis plants can be profitable, he says, and he's not talking about the illegal trade. In fact, the legal hemp plant will not get a smoker "high". The THC content, what gives a smoker the "high" feeling, is extremely low in the plants being used in the pilot program.
Plants are tested throughout the growing cycle to be sure that THC levels remain low. These plants, instead, are grown for CBD oils that are used in medicines and for fiber that can be used in a variety of ways including making fabric.
The products are in demand. Right now, 341 growing permits have been issued across North Carolina with more than 5,000 acres planted this year.
Stancil believes the marketing aspect is wide open and he is hoping to cash in on it. He plans to have 100 acres planted next year and more in the future. They key, he says, is seeing how this first patch of industrial hemp cannabis fares.