Believe it or not, cultivation of hemp in the United States used to be an extremely common practice. At one point in the early 20th century, in fact, it was one of the leading industries in America – even mandatory for occupants living on property in some states to plant, grow, and harvest it.
Of course, that was going on 100 years ago. In the years since, cultivation of hemp has veritably been wiped out due to the brutally strict laws that surround anything and everything cannabis related. The infamous Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, for instance, all but ensured that cannabis (including hemp) became illegal. And since then, it certainly has not fared much better in terms of agricultural access.
In fact, when the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was signed into law (thereby classifying marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic), rules and regulations on the non-psychoactive cannabis species became even more rigid – for any American farmer, whether commercial or otherwise, the herb was all but unobtainable.
However, when Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill into law a few years ago back in 2014, new hope was ignited in terms of the possibility that hemp might once again become an agricultural mainstay here in the United States. It didn’t take long, however, for farmers to realize that the “legal language” of the Bill essentially only allowed for hemp to be grown by universities (with special permits) in the name of research, rather than as a commercial (for profit) crop.
Is Hemp Legal to Grow in the U.S.?
Even with the Farm Bill signed into law back in 2014, the legal status of hemp in the U.S. has not become much more transparent. In fact, the question of ‘is it legal to grow hemp in the U.S.’ remains a pretty murky one.
On the one hand, at least 16 states have passed supplemental legislation to the Farm Bill that allows commercial farmers to grow hemp and manufacture it for export, textiles, or other produced goods. In fact, in 2017 it was estimated that agricultural hemp is a nearly $700 billion industry in the United States.
However, the fact that the plant is still illegal under federal law makes it very difficult for American growers to operate a successful business without constantly living in fear of the DEA shutting down their operation for detection of trace amounts of THC, which is the mind-altering, psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Truth be told, this is where hemp legality gets really complicated.
Legal Hemp in the United States: A Complicated Subject
By manipulation of specific wording (or lack thereof) in the federal Controlled Substances Act, the “manufacturing, distributing, and possessing” of hemp in the U.S. is in fact legal. However, the act of actually growing hemp is, believe it or not, illegal. This ultimately comes down to the life cycle of the cannabis plant, and the fact that male and female versions of it produce radically different compounds.
Simply put, “hemp” is the male version of the cannabis plant, while “marijuana” is the female version. To get high, you need to smoke the flowers of the female plant – this is where all of the psychoactive THC is. Hemp, on the other hand (that is, the male cannabis plant) produces no flowers, and thus no mind-altering THC. This is the reason why it’s legal.
However, the bastardly part of the whole deal is the fact that cannabis seeds are not differentiated in terms of “sex;” when you grow hemp, you technically could have a female plant (with THC-containing flowers) spring up out of the ground, at which point you would be breaking federal law. Pretty crazy, right?
For this reason, despite the fact that there are laws in place allowing for the commercial production of hemp here in the U.S., it is still not an easy crop to grow legally – not by a long shot.
Is Hemp Legal in the U.S.? The DEA Doesn’t Mess Around When it Comes to Cannabis
That being said, it is entirely possible to grow hemp legally here in the U.S. – but you had better know what you are doing because the DEA does NOT mess around when it comes to checking for the presence of THC – even miniscule, trace amounts of it.
This fact, combined with the fact that it is very difficult (and expensive) to obtain a commercial hemp-growing license from the federal government, does not make becoming a hemp farmer here in the U.S. an easy feat.
Nevertheless, there are several high-quality manufacturers of hemp-based CBD oils currently out there on the market that produce all of their products from 100% U.S. grown hemp. Brands like CBD Essence and Charlotte’s Web, for instance, are known to only use organically-grown industrial hemp that’s cultivated right here with national borders.
Unfortunately, brands like these are the outliers in terms of the majority of hemp-based products that are for sale in the U.S. (which, on a side note, hemp products – including sterilized hemp seeds and hemp-based CBD oils – are perfectly legal to buy, sell, and ship here in the U.S.).
As we were saying, though, brands like CBD Essence and Charlotte’s Web are the “odd men out” in terms of where they get their hemp from. The fact of the matter, for better or worse, is that the vast majority of hemp products that are sold here in the U.S. are manufactured from imported hemp sources.
Where Does the U.S. Get its Hemp From?
Since not a lot of hemp is actually grown here in the U.S., where do we get the raw material to supply the “hemp goods” that make up the nearly $700 billion American hemp industry?
Well, the current leading supplier will likely not be a surprise to you: China.
That’s right, as of 2015 China was one of the leading exporters of raw hemp material to be imported into the U.S. for production of manufactured goods. Of course, these “goods” include everything from hemp clothes and beauty products, to hemp building materials and health supplements (including hemp-based CBD oils and capsules).
Along with China, countries like Romania, Hungary and India are also large-scale hemp suppliers to the U.S. based market. And in terms of hemp seed beauty and nutritional products (which can be found at just about every health food store in America), Canada is by far the largest supplier.
However, even given the full legality of importing raw hemp material into the U.S. for manufacturing of goods, running a hemp operation here is still a sketchy business, no matter how diligently you try to stay within the bounds of federal law.
This comes down to one simple fact: you have to trust your hemp supplier to ONLY ship you 100% male cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC by weight. If THC is detected in higher amounts than this, your entire supply will be seized and your whole operation likely shut down, not to mentioned HEAVILY fined. And believe us, like we said earlier the DEA and U.S. Customs and Border Control does not mess around when it comes to cannabis products entering the country. In fact, this is what they have to say about whether or not hemp can be imported into the U.S for commercial use:
“Hemp products such as cosmetics, clothing, food, etc. may be imported into the United States if they do not contain tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). Hemp Seeds … must be sterilized [as] non-sterilized hemp seeds remain a Schedule I Controlled Substance and therefore may only be imported into the U.S. with a DEA Permit (Form 35). For all other hemp products if the product contains tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) and causes THC to enter the human body, it is an illegal substance and MAY NOT be imported into the U.S.”
Final Thoughts on Where Does The U.S. Get its Hemp From
In short, due to ridiculously stringent federal laws on cannabis cultivation, it is very difficult for commercial (or even academic/research) growers to grow hemp here in the U.S. While it is indeed possible (at least in the 16 states that have established commercial hemp-growing legislation), the DEA does not make it a very appealing proposition.
As such, the majority of hemp products that are produced and sold here in the U.S. (including therapeutic supplements like CBD hemp oils), are sourced from foreign countries such as China, Canada, Romania, Hungary, and India. And until the federal stance on hemp is differentiated from the strict Controlled Substances Act (which classifies all cannabis “material” as a Schedule I drug), this is not likely to change any time soon.