A Guide to the State Politics of Hemp


Even so far into the year, many professionals agree that the view of the hemp and CBD industry for 2020 is still unclear. One of the primary reasons can be attributed to state agriculture departments, registered growers, and shifting state politics surrounding hemp as a crop and consumer item. Everything from the definition of hemp flower, the process of growers becoming licensed, marketing regulations, growing regulations, commissions, and the legal protection of growers are all determined by state policymakers. 

So, while federal level laws say one thing, state-level legislation may say another, leading to dangerous outcomes for farmers who aren’t paying close enough attention to both. While it is certainly one of the least attractive parts of the hemp industry, maintaining knowledge of how the politics of hemp and CBD currently stands, and how it continues to evolve, is critical to remaining compliant and in business. 

The Federal Politics of Hemp 

Up until 2018, the 2014 Farm Bill was the current word from the federal government on what hemp was and how it could be used. At that time, the hemp plant was only allowed to be grown and produced at state departments of agriculture or universities as part of research and pilot programs. 

That all changed in 2018 with a new Farm Bill that removed the inclusion of hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and placed it as an agricultural product. This bill defined the hemp plant species Cannabis sativa as an agricultural product, so long as the delta-9 THC amount was no more than 0.3%. All hemp cultivation was under the jurisdiction of the U.S Department of Agriculture. 

Late in 2019, the USDA proposed an interim final rule on a previous ruling that maintains the legal shipment of hemp through states that do not allow hemp to be grown. This rule also gave states the power to submit plans and apply to be the primary regulatory authority of their state’s hemp production. State plans must include methods of land tracking, testing protocols, and destruction of hemp that does not meet the 0.3% THC requirements. 

The State Politics of Hemp

As of 2019, forty-eight states have reviewed more than 200 bills regarding hemp production, with six currently enacting state programs. Those six include Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas. 

Other states have taken slightly different steps, like Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Maryland which passed legislation to either expand or change the name on existing hemp programs. New Hampshire and Mississippi created study committees and task forces respectively to research hemp cultivation. Mississippi, along with Idaho, remains the only two states that do not allow commercial hemp cultivation. 

Among the rest of the states that have allowed hemp production, each one has its own regulations, programs, and permit requirements. For example, Colorado allows for hemp to be cultivated for commercial and research purposes, but under the regulations of the Industrial Hemp Committee under the Department of Agriculture, the establishment of a seed certification program, and grants for state institutions and universities researching hemp seed varieties. Georgia, on the other hand, is responsible for providing its own licensing requirements for hemp growers and processors and deems regulated hemp, and hemp products, as separate from marijuana as a controlled substance. 

Hemp Farmers by State

Judging by the data and reports available, new growers are continuing to enter the hemp industry all across the country, and existing farmers are looking to expand their operations. The Senior Communications Officer for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture stated that his state received 400 applications, of which 324 were given hemp program licenses, by the end of February this year. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture approved 107 new growers’ licenses for up to 510 acres in the 2020 season. 

Even more states report similar growth in their applicant numbers, which makes perfect sense when looked at with the individual state policies that have been established. Nearly every state has proven that they support the hemp industry growing and want it to succeed. 

We may like to imagine that it is for altruistic reasons they feel this way, but from a more realistic standpoint, they likely see this as an incredible funding opportunity. Permits and certifications often time costs money to acquire, and testing is a continual expense, plus the tax money states can collect on this new product is plenty of incentive for most states to get onboard the hemp train.

Despite the complexity when taken as a whole, you only really need to worry about legislation on the Federal level, and what is dictated by your individual state. Permits, certifications, and testing requirements should all be investigated to make sure you get off on the right foot as a new hemp farmer and need to be kept up on any changes or alterations in policies and laws as time goes on. 

Hemp is in a funny place, with an industry nearly growing faster than laws and policies can keep up with. Staying abreast of state hemp politics will keep you safe from any unfortunate breaches and encourage the industry’s trajectory to continue upward.