Is it Illegal to Grow Hemp? [Understanding the Legalities]

Hemp is now grown and sold here in the U.S. in decent quantities, but trying to understand and come to terms with its exact legal status is a little tricky.

Can any random person go out and buy hemp seeds and grow it in their backyard? Are farmers allowed to grow low-THC hemp and sell it commercially? What are the exact laws regarding hemp in the USA?

In this article, we aim to answer all of these questions — and a lot more.

What is Hemp… and How is it Different from Marijuana?

Before we get into the gist of the article and talk about whether or not it is illegal to grow hemp in the US, let’s talk a little bit about what hemp is, and how it differs from “regular” marijuana.

Both hemp and marijuana come from the plant genus Cannabis, and as such, it has been difficult for the government to distinguish between the two plants in terms of legality (given that they are “technically” the same species).

Basically, the major difference between hemp and marijuana is the fact that hemp contains virtually no THC (less than 0.3%). In other words, it does not get you high. Marijuana, on the other hand, contains on average between 13-20% THC.

Considering the fact that hemp causes no high whatsoever and can be used to make over 25,000 sustainable, eco-friendly commercial products, it is common sense that it should be legal nationwide. In fact, the U.S. has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year because it has to import its hemp products, rather than produce them domestically.

Hemp History 101: Why is Hemp Illegal?

As we’ve said, hemp has been illegal for the past several decades because of its genetic classification with marijuana. All forms of cannabis were first outlawed in the U.S. back in 1932 when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, and then further outlawed in the 1970’s with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

In fact, ever since Richard Nixon signed the CSA into law back in 1970, hemp has been classed as a Schedule I narcotic along with the likes of heroin, LSD, and cocaine; drugs that are legally defined as having a “high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns.”

Sound pretty crazy? Yep, we agree.

What States is it Legal to Grow Hemp In?

Back in 2014, the Obama Administration passed what is now commonly known as the U.S. Farm Bill. Among other things, this Bill contains legislation that allows American farmers to once again legally grow hemp on American soil.

However, there are cumbersome stipulations to the legislation, as anyone interested in growing hemp for commercial or research purposes must go through a lengthy (and expensive) application process. Currently, 30 out of 50 U.S. states allow for some sort of legal agricultural hemp program.

Hopefully this will all change in 2019, however, as long as President Trump signs off on the 2018 Hemp Farming Act (which was approved by the Senate in June 2018).

If passed, the Act would completely legalize hemp as a commercial crop that is accessible to all U.S. farmers. More importantly, though, it would remove hemp from its current status as a Schedule I drug. This would open doors for revenue, jobs, and research that could shed more light on the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (most legal CBD products are made from industrial hemp).

FAQ: Growing Hemp in the USA

In order to help answer some of the most common and practical questions on whether hemp is illegal here in the US, here is a brief list of FAQ that we commonly receive:

  • Can I grow (personal) hemp at home? Hemp can be grown legally for personal reasons/recreation in states where cannabis has been legalized recreationally. It can also be grown in some states where marijuana is medically legal, as long as you have a valid MMJ card and are approved for home cultivation.
  • Are farmers allowed to grow hemp commercially? Legal hemp cultivation is allowed in 30 states for commercial and research purposes. However, applicants must go through a lengthy and expensive review process in order to obtain a permit. If President Trump signs the 2018 Hemp Farming Act, hemp will be 100% legal in the U.S. for American farmers. (See here for a list of the 30 states where industrial hemp is legal for commercial/research growth).
  • Is it legal to import hemp (and hemp products) from other countries? Yes. It is legal to import hemp fibers, sterilized hemp seeds, and other hemp products from countries outside the U.S. both for personal and commercial (retail) purposes. If hemp is legalized within the US, however, it will open up the domestic market and thus create tens of thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue for the U.S. economy.
  • Where can I buy hemp fiber? There are limited options to purchase raw hemp fiber and other hemp products online, both in wholesale and retail (individual) quantities.
  • Does CBD oil that’s advertised as “Made in the USA” really come from the US? Yes, there are several quality CBD oil companies that extract their cannabidiol from 100% USA-grown hemp. The majority of commercial American hemp farms are located in Kentucky, Colorado, and Oregon. [Related article: What is CBD Oil?]
  • Where can I get hemp seeds? Hemp seeds are easily attainable from most dispensaries and nurseries in states where cannabis has been approved recreationally. You can easily order hemp seeds online and/or buy them from health food stores all over the country, but these will likely be sterilized seeds. In other words, you won’t be able to plant them in the ground and grow them.

Final Thoughts: Is it Illegal to Grow Hemp in the US?

While hemp is not 100% outlawed here in the U.S., the government has certainly not made it easy for American farmers to capitalize on the market, which is currently estimated at over $600 million annually. In order to grow (and sell) hemp legally here in the US, farmers must apply for a Pilot Research Permit, if they live in one of the 30 states that has passed hemp legislation.

In June 2018, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a stand-alone bill known as the Hemp Farming Act, which would allow for the complete legalization of hemp for American farmers. Just as importantly, it would also remove hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance under the CSA. As of early fall 2018, the Act awaits President Trump’s signature to be signed into law after passing through the Senate with an 86-11 vote.