Before the expansion measures of the Farm Bill of 2018 were signed into federal law, the Hemp Pilot Program was the final word on hemp legalization. Signed into law by former President Barack Obama, it only allowed a limited number of research institutions to cultivate and study industrial-grade hemp. Those studies had to be done under a very strict set of government restrictions.
When former President Donald Trump signed The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, colloquially known as the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp and hemp seeds were officially removed from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of controlled substances. This major change allowed industrial hemp to be legalized in the United States on a federal level.
So what are the rules for growing hemp now? Once the Farm Bill of 2018 passed, it created huge changes for hemp farming. It allowed for broad industrial hemp cultivation in all 50 states. This is great news for anyone looking to get into hemp farming.
Is Hemp the Same as Marijuana?
It is important to recognize the differences between hemp and marijuana. Hemp could be considered a “close cousin” to marijuana, as they both are taxonomically the same cannabis sativa plant and belong to the cannabis (Cannabaceae) family. 1 Despite being the same plant type, the major difference between hemp and marijuana plants is the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, found in the plant.
THC is the primary chemical found in marijuana that creates a psychoactive “high” feeling in people who prize the plant for adult use. Under US law, cannabis plants are considered to be industrial hemp plants when they contain a THC concentration of 0.3% or less. Conversely, modern-day marijuana has an average THC concentration of about 15-20%.
The extremely low THC concentration contained in industrial hemp cannot get you high even though both plants are classified as cannabis. This is great news for consumers who look to reap the other benefits of cannabis plants without the possible mind-altering side effects of THC.
What About CBD Content?
If THC concentration separates industrial hemp from marijuana, then what role does CBD play? Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another cannabinoid compound found in all species of cannabis plants and can be derived from either industrial hemp or marijuana.2
With the federal legalization of industrial hemp, CBD use is becoming increasingly popular. Many users of CBD products enjoy the numerous health benefits of CBD. Products like CBD oil, a popular ingredient in health and wellness products, contain well under the legal amount of THC and are, therefore, legal in all 50 states.
However, it is important to note that CBD products are only considered to be federally legal if they are derived from industrial hemp plants and contain less than 0.3% THC. Popular CBD products currently on the market for consumption primarily fall into these categories:
- Clothing items
- Paper and paper products
- Animal feed
- Substitutes for plastic products (bioplastics)
- Healthy food products (in the form of seeds, milk, protein powder, and in oil form)
What States Is It Legal to Grow Hemp?
Unfortunately, just because hemp is distinct from marijuana does not mean that it is legal to commercially farm everywhere. Though it is federally legal in some capacity because of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, states still have some restrictions on its cultivation.3
All states require a license to grow, and some have further limitations on how much you can grow, harvest, or distribute. Most states have approved plans that outline what is legal for hemp growers and what is not. Reviewing these rules is extremely important. If you break your state’s law concerning hemp farming, you could face serious consequences.
It is important to check with your state’s specific laws before you attempt to farm hemp. Despite the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, there can still be significant penalties if you don’t follow the hemp laws in your area. It is also important to make the distinction between growing for personal use and farming. While growing on a small scale may be prohibited, growing commercially may be allowed, or vice versa. When you consider your area’s laws, be sure you are looking for farming laws specifically.
Hemp Farming FAQs
Can Hemp Be Organic?
Industrial hemp has more than 25,000 known uses and is becoming seen as an eco-friendly alternative for other, more popular crops that are commonly being produced on an industrial scale.4 Hemp plants are ideal for those who aim to partake in organic farming. Hemp crops grow more vigorously than many other crops while requiring less water, herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer to maintain. For these reasons, hemp plants are quickly earning a reputation in agriculture as being a highly sustainable crop.
Even in states where it is legal to grow marijuana, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not allow marijuana to be organically certified. However, industrial hemp can be certified organic. Organic hemp seeds are popular for eating and are in high demand. The market for products containing hemp is also especially strong. Consumers rave about the quality of hemp-based products and appreciate having a healthy alternative to more chemical-laden items.
What Are Possible Obstacles When Growing Industrial Hemp?
We’ve discussed all the pros and benefits of growing industrial hemp, but what are some of the possible obstacles you may face when growing your hemp? Like any other form of crop cultivation, industrial hemp can pose its share of issues, so we’ve listed them here to give you the information you need to get the best results from your crop. We ask you to keep these things in mind when deciding to take on growing industrial hemp.
Getting started growing industrial hemp isn’t exactly a cheap endeavor if you’re looking to farm on large areas of land. When you factor in startup and overhead costs a first-time hemp farmer will need to be operating on a sizable budget early on. For much smaller or personal setups, you will be fine with a nice area (like your backyard) that you can turn into your own holistic paradise.
In addition to challenges handling legality and expenses, another possible obstacle to industrial plant cultivation lies in finding high-quality seeds to begin your crop. It can be hard to find suitable hemp seed for several reasons, but the primary reason is that prior to being planted hemp seed must be certified to be low in THC content. Anyone who farms industrial hemp should understand that their crops will be subjected to testing. If your crop is found to have a THC concentration that is too high above the legal concentration, you risk having your crop destroyed.
Where Can You Get Seeds?
When you begin to grow hemp, you will need the seeds to do so. Again, how you do this will depend on your state-specific laws. For many farmers, it is possible to buy hemp seeds from a farm supply store or a seed catalog. You may need to prove that you have a growing license to purchase the seeds.
It is important to get feminized hemp seeds when you purchase them. This will provide a more robust crop and a better yield. Fortunately, hemp seeds do not need to be pollinated, so many farmers grow hemp in a greenhouse or a controlled environment to get a more reliable result.
Is There a Market for Hemp?
Hemp is a thriving industry, and it only continues to grow.4 Though there is some competition with cannabis growers for acreage, hemp has a significant business. Though you can technically sell raw hemp on the market, you are likely to find more success selling a processed hemp product. There are opportunities to create hemp-based products in many diverse industries. However, you will not likely find much demand for the dried hemp plant itself.
Can You Guarantee Low THC Content?
It is important that the product you produce has a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration below 0.3%. If you produce a product with a higher concentration, you could be considered in violation of your license. Some states may even penalize you for growing marijuana if the THC content is too high.
You can keep THC content low by monitoring and controlling your hemp’s conditions. Extreme situations such as flood, drought, heat, or cold can all cause the plant’s THC concentration to increase. It is important to keep your hemp’s surroundings consistent and with its preferred conditions.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Hemp?
Hemp crops are relatively quick to mature, which is a primary reason they are so eco-friendly. 5 While other alternatives may take decades to reach the necessary maturity, it only takes hemp four to six months. This means you can expect two or three harvests per year depending on the reliability of your conditions and the efficiency of your operation.
With more crop yield, there is the potential for significant growth for your farm or garden if you grow hemp. However, be sure to check the limitations of your grower’s license. Some states may put a cap on how much hemp you can grow per year or how much you can have in your possession.
Should I Get Legal Help?
It is extremely wise to consult legal help before you get a grower’s license or begin growing hemp. Because laws change so drastically from state to state, it is easy for farmers to make serious mistakes throughout the process. When you hire legal help, you can be sure the rest of your livelihood is protected and that you are doing everything by the book.
Takeaways for Legally Growing Industrial Hemp
Hemp is one of the most useful plants on the planet, and it’s only just begun to be legally cultivated in the U.S. Many may complain about the regulations and restrictions on hemp farming, but let’s not allow that to stop us from taking advantage of a highly useful plant. You should know what you’re getting into before you start growing hemp for commercial use, though—the legalities and regulations can be complex! Hopefully, this article has shed some light on the subject.
- Sawler, J., Stout, J. M., Gardner, K. M., Hudson, D., Vidmar, J., Butler, L., Page, J. E., & Myles, S. (2015). The Genetic Structure of Marijuana and Hemp. PloS one, 10(8), e0133292. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0133292
- 3. Cerino, P., Buonerba, C., Cannazza, G., D’Auria, J., Ottoni, E., Fulgione, A., … & Gallo, A. (2021). A review of hemp as food and nutritional supplement. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 6(1), 19-27. https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2020.0001
- United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Status of State and Tribal Hemp Production Plans for USDA Approval | Agricultural Marketing Service. Agricultural Marketing Service. Retrieved May 25, 2022, from https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp/state-and-tribal-plan-review
- Rupasinghe, H., Davis, A., Kumar, S. K., Murray, B., & Zheljazkov, V. D. (2020). Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa) as an Emerging Source for Value-Added Functional Food Ingredients and Nutraceuticals. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 25(18), 4078. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25184078
- Schumacher, A. G. D., Pequito, S., Pazour, J., (2020). Industrial hemp fiber: A sustainable and economical alternative to cotton. Journal of Cleaner Production 268, 122180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2020.122180
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