Sheriffs step up patrols of hemp farms after N.C. robberies

Hemp fields are getting extra protection from law enforcement in one eastern North Carolina county where the new crop has been targeted by thieves, a sign that growers of the plant face more threats than the usual pests and poor weather.

The extra sheriffs’ patrols in rural Edgecombe County, N.C., come after five men were accused this week of trying to steal hemp. They were charged with trespassing, the Rocky Mount Telegram reported.

The first case happened Monday, when three men were charged with second-degree trespassing after a sheriff’s deputy responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle near a hemp field.

Then, on Tuesday, two other men were arrested and charged with felony larceny and trespassing after being found with hemp plants that had already been stolen from the field. County authorities didn’t put a market value on those plants.

“The sheriff’s office will continue to monitor the hemp fields in the county and arrest anyone trespassing at these sites,” Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson told the Telegram.

Atkinson didn’t say the men believed the hemp was marijuana, but he added in a statement that people shouldn’t confuse hemp with marijuana.

This is North Carolina’s first year allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp. The state has 97 licensed hemp growers on 1,930 acres this year.