industrial hemp

Industrial hemp, marijuana, or cannabis. The terminology can be misleading and there is often confusion about the difference between them.

Hemp and cannabis are two different strains of the Cannabis Sativa L. plant. Hemp has low levels of delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Generally, cannabis grows short and bushy, and is planted 10 to 15 feet apart. Cannabis is selectively bred and cultivated specifically for its flowers, which contain the highest levels of THC in the plant. Through selective breeding, varieties, or strains, of cannabis contain THC concentrations that range from 10 to 35 percent.

What is Industrial Hemp?

Hemp, often referred to as “Industrial Hemp” or “Hemp Stalk”, is a cannabis strain that contains 0.3% THC or less in the leaves and flowering heads. Strains of Hemp grow and are cultivated differently than THC-containing cannabis strains and is densely planted with only 3 to 6 inches between the plants. Hemp grows tall and spindly to an average of height of 10 to 15 feet with an appearance similar to bamboo.

Widely regarded as a renewable resource with unlimited commercial potential, hemp is a high yield crop that can be used for food or non-food purposes with little to no reliance on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Every part of the hemp plant can be put to good use, as its stalks, seeds, flowers, and oils all have applications. Industrial hemp fiber is used for clothing, rope, insulation, and paper products. Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, sprouted, or made into hemp milk. Hemp seed oil can be used in cosmetics, lighting, paints, varnishes, medicinal preparations, and biofuel. While Cannabidiol (CBD) oil can be extracted from hemp, hemp has little potential to produce high-content THC as long as hemp plants are pollinated by members of their own crop.

California Industrial Hemp Program

The California Industrial Hemp Farming Act was signed into law to authorize the commercial production of industrial hemp in California. The Act became effective on January 1, 2017, as a provision in the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64, November 2016).

As directed by this Act, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is developing a program to administer the law. The first step of this process was to establish an Industrial Hemp Advisory Board. With assistance from the Board, CDFA will further develop the registration process, fee structure, regulations, and other administrative details as necessary to provide for the commercial production of industrial hemp in accordance with the Act. A state license will not be required to cultivate hemp once authorization is available. To cultivate hemp, only registration with local jurisdictions’ Agricultural Commissions will be required.

Since the passage of the California Industrial Hemp Farming Act, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has hindered the progression of Industrial Hemp in California because of its decision to broadly define any extract from the cannabis plant as “marijuana” and not hemp under its Final Rule. The Hemp Industry Association appealed the Final Rule and the case was heard by the 9th Circuit Court. On Monday, May 1, 2018 the Court rejected the Hemp Industry Association’s challenge to the DEA rule, leaving “marijuana extracts”, including hemp and cannabis derived CBD, as federally illegal Schedule 1 controlled substances.

A Federal Push for Industrial Hemp Legislation

On a different track, Senator Mitch McConnel, Majority Leader in the House (R-KY), recently introduced S.2667 the “Hemp Farming Act of 2018”, a bill that would allow States and Tribes to regulate hemp production. The Act is being fast-tracked through the Senate, bypassing the standard committee review process.

Senator McConnel’s Hemp Farming Act and its proposed definition of hemp is significant for the industry, as it specifically includes the term “extracts”, thereby undermining the DEA’s “marijuana extract” rule. The Act’s proposed hemp definition also includes “cannabinoids” contained in hemp, which should add legal clarity for CBD extraction. Finally, the Act would remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act’s definition of marijuana.

Stay tuned for more developments on Industrial Hemp as the Federal Hemp Farming Act of 2018 moves forward, and the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling is appealed. More information on Industrial Hemp in California can be found on the CA Department of Food and Agriculture’s website.