By Daniel Shortt
Hemp and marijuana are both derived from the cannabis plant. While there is no uniform definition of what constitutes hemp, it is usually described as a part of the cannabis plant with little or no THC. Hemp offers many useful applications and recent changes at the state and federal levels have allowed for U.S. farmers to legally cultivate hemp. Despite this, many U.S. businesses still import hemp from other countries with less restrictive hemp laws. But as hemp cultivation expands across the U.S., U.S. businesses may move away from imported hemp.
Hemp cultivation in the United States. Under the 2014 federal Farm Bill, Congress allowed for industrial hemp cultivation without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency if allowed by a state Department of Agriculture, or cultivated by a college or a university for academic or agricultural research purposes in a state that maintains its own hemp regulation.
Several states have taken advantage of the Farm Bill. For example, North Dakota passed House Bill 1436 in 2015 allowing for legal industrial hemp farming. Hemp farmers must pass a criminal background check and indicate the type of hemp seed they intend to cultivate. Farm and Ranch Guide put together a report on North Dakota’s emerging hemp industry. Interestingly, North Dakota does not allow for any other form of cannabis. The state has no legal recreational or medical cannabis program.
Kentucky has also emerged as a leader in industrial hemp. The state passed legislation that allows designated farmers to produce industrial hemp under regulation. The state successfully fought the federal government to obtain its first batch of hemp seeds. Kentucky has a climate that is well-suited to hemp production, allowing some farmers to grow “shoulder height“ plants in the first season of cultivation. Kentucky also is home to agricultural leaders who want the hemp program to thrive. Agriculture Commissioner, James Comer, stated that “industrial hemp will be a significant industry in the United States in the next 10 years …. And today, Kentucky is the leader in this crop.” It appears that Kentucky hemp is thriving in its first few years, with the Western Kentucky University Herald calling it the “Silicon Valley” of hemp.
Importing hemp. As the domestic market grows, it’s likely that more companies will obtain hemp from domestic providers, but for years the U.S. industry has relied on importing hemp under laws and rules promulgated by the United States Department of Agriculture and by United States Customs and Border Protection. This is because many industrial nations already allow for hemp cultivation. According to a recent Congressional Report on hemp, China supplies the most raw and processed hemp to the United States, followed by Romania, Hungary, and India. Canada is the single largest source of hemp seed and oilcake imports.
Importing hemp is legal but still presents significant risks because U.S. Customs and Border Protection is always looking out for anything containing THC, even trace amounts, and for anything with any type of cannabis logo or packaging. In fact, in response to the question, “[c]an I import hemp products into the United States?,” U.S. Customs responded on its website as follows:
Hemp products such as cosmetics, clothing, food, etc. may be imported into the United States if they do not contain tetrahydrocannabinols (THC). Hemp Seeds: Imports of hemp seeds must be sterilized. Non-sterilized hemp seeds remain a schedule one controlled substance and therefore may only be imported into the U.S. with a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Permit Form 35. 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
For years, U.S. Importers have had to heavily rely on their exporters to ensure the hemp materials or seeds being imported to the U.S. contain no THC at all and that any seeds are not capable of germination. Ultimately, if the exporter makes a mistake with its hemp imports, the U.S. importer pays the price, both civilly and criminally.
Bottomline. As hemp cultivation continues to expand across the U.S. it seems likely that corporations may move away from imported hemp. However, industries do not develop over night and many businesses may find that importing hemp is the viable option for current needs. Conversations regarding cannabis legalization often make no mention of hemp but it is important to remember that there is more to cannabis than just marijuana. Check back in with the CLPP blog to find more information about how hemp is developing at home and abroad.