Industrial Hemp Farming: Where Do We Stand Legally?

Industrial Hemp Farming: Where Do We Stand Legally?

by Thomas Ivory Jr.

With an overwhelming sweep of cannabis advocacy from coast to coast, the US is shifting toward wider acceptance of the “miracle plant.” While awareness has grown due to interest in medical and recreational marijuana, industrial hemp has also found its way back into the conversation. Thirty-two states have defined industrial hemp as distinctly different from marijuana, with at least 16 states legalizing hemp production for commercial purposes and 20 states passing laws allowing research and pilot programs.

More than half of all states—from Maine in the Northeast, to Arkansas in the South, to Montana up north, and California on the West Coast—have recently passed pro-hemp cultivation bills. As hemp legislation continues moving forward at the state level, the federal government has yet to bring any hemp bill to a hearing. The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (HR 525 and SB 134) would exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act—allowing American farmers to legally grow the crop. These hemp bills have yet to be passed by Congress.

On the state level, a number of laws have been passed, both good and bad. (See sidebar) The influence of industrial hemp on states that have passed some sort of legalization is significant, and the surrounding states are noticing.

States with hemp legislation

  • Maine allows hemp growing for commercial purposes, and the state has established a license for seed distributors.

  • California will allow a commercial hemp program to be overseen by the California Department of Food and Agriculture only when authorized under federal law.

  • Nevada mandates that the Nevada Board of Agriculture implement an industrial hemp pilot program, while state institutions of higher education can now grow for research purposes.  

  • Kentucky created an industrial hemp research program overseen by the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station. The commercial licensing program to cultivate hemp for any legal purpose is subject to the legalization of industrial hemp under federal law. Kentucky’s research program, however, studies the environmental benefit of hemp as well as the possibilities of hemp as an energy source.

  • Colorado allows hemp cultivation for commercial and research purposes to be overseen by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. They have established a seed certified program as well as a grant program (Industrial Hemp Grant Research Program) for state institutions of higher learning to research new hemp varieties and industrial applications.

  • West Virginia allows hemp production for commercial purposes by growers licensed by the West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture. Growers in this state must use seeds that produce plants that contain less than one percent THC (in other states the limit is 0.3% THC).

  • Arizona voted against marijuana legalization, stopping industrial hemp progress in that state.

  • Many states now allow industrial hemp research and development if only associated with a state university or institution of higher education. As for commercial production, these states require federal legalization.


There is still an infinite amount of knowledge to be acquired concerning nature and how humankind interacts with it. Our impact on this earth is becoming more apparent while environmental consciousness holds even more importance. Sustainable practices—in any respect—are precious. With this past election, many states voted for states’ rights with the liberation of the cannabis plant.

Misinformation concerning cannabis is still rampant. Special interests have been very influential. The most valuable asset the modern hemp industry has acquired over the past few years is knowledge and research. Industrial hemp advocates are striving to distinguish the differences between the agricultural crop of hemp and its cousin marijuana. Yet, the acceptance of marijuana as effective medicine has made decriminalization, and ultimately legalization, of cannabis possible.

The Industrial Hemp Farm Act was introduced in the House and the Senate, but no action has been taken. Momentum is growing, with more states allowing research and development and others including commercial aspects of an agricultural plant that may very well benefit society globally.

A lot of support for industrial hemp businesses comes from people voting with their dollars! State and federal representatives and senators need to be reminded that sustainable agriculture is important. Industrial hemp can be an important part of the overall solution. Research and development create jobs and building economics here in the US. Politicians understand business and they want their states to thrive.

Why and for how long will Congress ignore what states already know?