Since the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill into law, the CBD and hemp sectors have expanded at breakneck speed. Hemp production in the United States tripled from 2017 to 2018, and the market is set to reach a value of $1.9 billion by 2022. CBD derived from hemp, meanwhile, is being sold across the country to people and even their pets to supplement treatments for health concerns ranging from insomnia to anxiety. This previously nonexistent area of the market could produce nearly $23.6 billion in revenue by 2025. For many a consumer (and for many a potential grower), however, many questions remain. Is CBD legal on a federal level and in my state? Can I grow cannabis to produce CBD, even for personal use? Unfortunately, while legislation is becoming more favorable to cannabis cultivation and its derived products, the answer to these questions is not yet cut and dry. Read on to learn more about the laws concerning growing cannabis to produce CBD.
The term “cannabis” may refer to two different plants of the same family – that is, hemp or marijuana. Both plants have been considered illegal since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, though recent changes in legislation championed in part by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell have changed the status for hemp on a national level. The Republican senator may seem an unlikely champion for cannabis-related legislation, but McConnell’s home state, Kentucky, serves to profit considerably from the legalization of agricultural hemp production. The state had a booming hemp industry prior to prohibition and contains one of the nation’s few fiber-processing plants.
Hemp is the taller, thinner, and hardier of these two plants, producing fewer leaves and growing in a wider range of conditions. Hemp can be used to produce fiber, food, paper, and even beauty products.
Marijuana, by contrast, is wider, shorter, and requires hotter, more humid climates. It is primarily grown for the medicinal and recreational importance of its notorious buds.
The primary difference between these two plants in the eyes of the law relates to THC, or Tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is one of the main compounds found in cannabis and is psychoactive, meaning that it is responsible for the “high” that individuals get from consuming cannabis buds. While both marijuana and hemp contain THC, it is the amount that separates from the other. THC may be the primary cannabinoid found in marijuana, but for a cannabis plant to be considered hemp by law, it must have a THC concentration of 0.3% or lower. However, both plants contain CBD, which means that CBD products can be extracted from either. CBD occurs primarily in the leaves and buds of both plants.
While CBD is one of the primary compounds in both hemp and marijuana, the CBD sold on a national level must be derived from industrial hemp, and thus is legally required to contain no more than 0.3% of THC. CBD products derived from marijuana, meanwhile, can only be sold in states with legalized marijuana use. But while hemp-derived products have been generally legalized, CBD still inhabits a legal grey area on the federal and state level. The FDA continues to monitor the sale of CBD products and warns consumers to avoid products that claim to treat or cure any medical conditions. The only FDA-approved CBD-based medical treatment on the market currently is GW Pharmaceutical’s Epidiolex, a drug used primarily to address the symptoms of epilepsy.
Additionally, CBD is still classified as a Schedule 1 substance on the federal level, though a few key exceptions allow for its widespread sale. CBD can be sold if produced from industrial hemp from a licensed grower in accordance with both state and federal regulations. However, any company making medical claims about their product may receive a letter from the FDA. Hemp grown for research purposes inhabits a third, separate category, and is similarly strictly regulated. Only research-grade hemp can be used to produce CBD for the purposes of medical research.
You may wonder, with all of these restrictions, what hope does a home grower have? If you live in certain key states, however, you may be in luck. As of 2020, there are 10 states where recreational use of cannabis by adults over the age of 21 is legal. An additional seven have medical cannabis laws in place. According to drcannabis.io, these are also the states where individuals looking to grow cannabis at home will face the fewest restrictions.
Not all states with medical marijuana programs allow individuals to grow hemp or marijuana, and those that do will require you to have a medical marijuana card and may place additional restrictions. Arizona and Nevada, for example, allow individuals to grow your own plants only if they live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary. Others do not allow individuals to grow cannabis at all. Washington D.C., Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and New Mexico are among the states that allow medical users to grow at home.
In states that allow recreational use you will find the laxest laws, though these states still generally restrict the number of plants an individual can grow at one time. California sets their limit at 12 immature plants and six flowering plants, while Maine and Vermont set the limit at three and two, respectively. Be aware that growing even low-THC industrial hemp without a commercial license will count towards your allotted number of cannabis plants. If you are able to secure a commercial license for growing hemp, however, the conditions will change in most places.
The greatest challenge for individuals looking to grow hemp for CBD production, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis use, is competition. Hemp strains recommended for CBD production include Charlotte’s Web, Remedy, and Dancehall, among others, because of their high CBD concentrations. The issue comes with extraction and producing a high-quality end product. While there are options for cheap, solvent based extractions, the quality of your final product will be subpar and may potentially retain concentrations of the noxious solvents you used. Most reputable CBD producers use cutting edge CO2 extraction to produce full spectrum CBD products, and spend tens of thousands of dollars to get third party labs to test and certify their products. Producing CBD for your own use might be an option, especially for medical marijuana card holders, but selling your product may require a huge investment.
The 2018 Farm Bill and related legislation primarily lends a hand to certified farmers looking to produce industrial on a large scale. U.S. lawmakers finalized the rules regarding industrial hemp production, outlining the limits for what is set to become a valuable cash crop in the nation. Only Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota have no programs for the production of industrial hemp, while the remaining 47 do. Hemp production in these states is still subject to federal guidelines that require the growth of the plant to be closely monitored. Each harvest must be sampled withing 15 days, and any plants containing more than the allotted amount of THC must be destroyed. However, the new legislation is set to reduce the cost of producing hemp for growers and will allow it to be treated more like other cash crops such as cotton. It also provides farmers with protection from crop losses and helps enable the shipping of hemp between states, allowing for better access to testing laboratories or fiber production plants.
Residents of Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington are least likely to face difficulties in growing cannabis, whether it is a high-CBD hemp strain or marijuana for recreational use. Other states may require a license to grow hemp for commercial purposes. While hemp is notoriously easy to grow, licensed farmers can benefit from a few key tips regarding the ideal conditions for hemp production.
Hemp can be grown on marginal farmland, but will produce a better-quality product if grown during the summer on nutrient rich, pesticide free soil. The plant prefers pH levels between 6.0 and 7.0 as well as potassium levels above 150 ppm, and does best in well-drained, uncompacted soil. Hemp plants are generally harvestable after 16 weeks, depending on the strain.
While the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill may seem like good news for cannabis lovers throughout the country, its loosening of restrictions applies most importantly for licensed growers looking to produce industrial hemp as a cash crop. Still, legislation regarding the criminalization of cannabis growth and products continues to loosen on the state level, and a Democratic House majority could further help loosen restrictions. Cannabis in both its form has the potential to be a viable cash crop across the nation and to bring in valuable agricultural revenues. But, for now, production is restricted mainly to licensed industrial hemp farmers. As legislation continues to develop, however, this is likely to change, promising a bright future for hemp and CBD related products.
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