Industrial Hemp Facts
Industrial hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa and is of the same plant species as marijuana. However, hemp is genetically different and distinguished by its use and chemical makeup. Industrial hemp refers to cannabis varieties that are primarily grown as an agricultural crop. Hemp plants are low in THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s primary psychoactive chemical). THC levels for hemp generally are less than 1 percent. Federal legislation that would exclude hemp from the legal definition of marijuana would set a ceiling of 0.3 percent THC for a cannabis variety to be identified as hemp. Marijuana refers to the flowering tops and leaves of psychoactive cannabis varieties, which are grown for their high content of THC. THC levels for marijuana average about 10 percent but can go much higher.
Industrial hemp products, production, and markets
- Some estimate that the global market for hemp consists of more than
- , including:
- fabrics and textiles
- yarns and raw or processed spun fibers
- home furnishings
- construction and insulation materials
- auto parts
- animal bedding
- foods and beverages
- body care products
- nutritional supplements
- industrial oils
- personal care
An estimated 55,700 metric tons of industrial hemp are produced around the world each year. China, Russia, and South Korea are the leading hemp-producing nations. They account for 70 percent of the world’s industrial hemp supply.
Canada had 38,828 licensed acres of industrial hemp in 2011. Canadian exports of hemp seed and hemp products were estimated at more than $10 million, with most going to the U.S.
Because there is no commercial industrial hemp production in the United States, the U.S. market is largely dependent on imports, both as finished hemp-containing products and as ingredients for use in further processing. More than 30 nations grow industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not allow industrial hemp production. Current industry estimates report that U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products may exceed $300 million per year.
U.S. law governing hemp
Under the current U.S. drug policy, all cannabis varieties, including hemp, are considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA, 21 U.S.C. §§801 et seq.; Title 21 CFR Part 1308.11). Hemp production is controlled and regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). It is illegal to grow hemp without a DEA permit. Cannabis varieties may be legitimately grown for research purposes only.
Several states have legalized the cultivation and research of industrial hemp, including Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. However, a grower still must get permission from the DEA in order to grow hemp, or face the possibility of federal charges or property confiscation, even if he or she has a state-issued permit.
Legislation filed in both houses of Congress would exclude hemp from the legal definition of marijuana. House Resolution 525 is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and has 39 co-sponsors, including Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Senate Bill 359 is sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and has four co-sponsors, including Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.