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20% of Indiana’s hemp crop was destroyed last year because it had too much THC

Fifth-generation farmer Mark Davidson spent his entire life in chronic pain — until he tried CBD oil, and it changed his life.

Davidson jumped on board when Indiana legalized growing hemp for CBD, a non-psychoactive chemical in the cannabis plant that is used for relieving pain, anxiety and other health issues, hoping to help others who were suffering.

But then his best-laid plans went up in smoke. Literally.

In 2019, Davidson was forced to burn 1.5 acres of his hemp crop.

“We had to burn more than $100,000 worth of product, which was heartbreaking and disheartening,” he said. “It was like seeing all this medicine going up in smoke.”

Davidson’s hemp crop had tested “hot,” meaning it contained more than the legal amount of THC, the chemical in cannabis that gets people high. Per rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if the cannabis plant has 0.3% THC or less, it’s considered hemp and legal in the state of Indiana. Any higher, it’s illegal.

Staying under this threshold means walking a fine line for Hoosier farmers, who are learning to grow a new crop and navigating an industry that’s less than 3 years old.

It’s a fine line that’s easy to cross.

Almost 20% of the state’s hemp crop was destroyed last year for THC levels between 0.41% and 13%, according to Don Robison, seed administrator with the Office of Indiana State Chemist. Although it’s hard to say for sure, his highest estimates guess this amounts to about 150 acres total.

In many cases, farmers let their crops approach higher THC concentrations because the quantity of the valuable CBD is directly tied to the quantity of THC in the plant. For a farmer to ensure lower THC levels, they may also be sacrificing potential profit.

“The only way to stay below 0.3% THC is to harvest it way before it’s mature,” said Davidson, who runs Davidson Greenhouse and Nursery and Heritage Farmacy in Crawfordsville. “It would be like picking your apples when they’re green as grass, there’s no benefit to harvesting early.”

Hemp was initially thought to be a lucrative opportunity for farmers struggling with tight margins. But the few that shell out tens of thousands of dollars on costly hemp seeds also risk losing their crop at the end of the season.

The problem is not specific to Indiana. Many states use the 0.3% threshold, which is a federal limit, so hemp farmers across the U.S. are affected. That said, Hoosier farmers say there are particular challenges here due to shifting regulation.

Davidson is among the many farmers around the country calling for the 0.3% threshold to be increased to 1%. That amount is unlikely to get users high, as most recreational cannabis products have closer to 20% or 30% THC. The psychoactive ingredients, farmers point out, can also be refined out of final CBD products before they are sold.

“It doesn’t change any of the true psychoactive effects of the plant, but it’s a massive change in regulation for us staying under compliance,” said Brady Mouzin, a Vincennes farmer who had to destroy his hemp crop two years ago. “That would be massively helpful for farmers.”

When your crop tests ‘hot’

When the state learns of a “hot” crop, Robison said, they are required to take steps to destroy it. If that crop tested just barely over the 0.3% limit, the state seed office allows the farmer to destroy it themselves and provide evidence. But if it tests substantially higher, the State Police are called in, he said.

This can be a huge financial blow to a hemp farmer, because hemp seeds aren’t cheap.

Hemp can cost as much as $1 per seed, Robison said, meaning the cost of planting and maintaining an acre of hemp could amount to $8,000 to $12,000. Counting a loss in profit, a farmer who had to burn an acre of hemp could be out as much as $20,000.

“With soybeans and corn, you’re in the hundreds of dollars per acre in input costs and profitability possibilities,” Robison said. “Hemp, you’re in the tens of thousands.”

And to make matters worse, going “hot” can happen fast.

Mouzin and his family, who run Mouzin Brothers Farms, were one of the early adopters to planting hemp when it was legalized in Indiana. Their first year, they harvested the crop early to avoid going “hot,” and didn’t get as much CBD output as they could have, so the next year they waited just a bit longer.

Mouzin said they sent 10 samples in for testing each week, at $75 per test. But the sample results were delayed by about 10 days, and when the weather is hot, the plants mature rapidly. Their most recent sample showed them in the clear, but when state regulators came around to test their crop, some of it had surpassed the 0.3% threshold.

In the end, they had to destroy half of their crop.

“It was a tough blow for us,” Mouzin said. “We were pretty frustrated with basically how much effort we put into staying in compliance, and still we went over.”

Even the first hemp adopters in Indiana have only been working with the plant for a handful of years, making it hard for farmers to gauge their plants’ maturity. And as cannabis has faced tumultuous regulation in the U.S., even researchers are catching up on understanding the plant.

In hopes of helping Hoosier growers better understand their crops, researchers at Purdue University contribute to the Midwest Hemp Cannabis Database, a resource with information on THC and CBD levels of different cannabis strains.

Marguerite Bolt, Purdue hemp extension specialist, said farmers send samples in from their crops for testing and the results are added to the larger database. It’s a way for Midwesterners to research the potential yield, compliance and profitability of the strains they’re considering growing, she said.

“It’s sort of like citizen science, and it can make a huge contribution to have all these data points,” Bolt said. “It is super valuable data.”

A budding industry

The hemp industry is growing in Indiana. Between 2019 and last year, the acreage of hemp registered for farming in Indiana grew from 5,300 to 8,900. In the same time, the square footage of indoor growing grew from 500,000 square feet to 1.7 million.

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The new industry is attractive for farmers hoping to break into a possibly lucrative business. But it also requires a learning curve, and legislators are trying to keep up.

Since hemp was legalized in Indiana in 2018, regulations for the new commodity have fluctuated. Notably, in 2019 lawmakers decided to ban hemp flower, the bud and most profitable part of the plant, after state police raised concerns that it would make it difficult to uphold marijuana laws. Hemp flower is indistinguishable from cannabis flower with higher THC levels.

The ban caused disruption for some hemp farmers, who were hoping to cash in on the flower, which can be hundreds of times more valuable than CBD oil.

Alan Davidson started getting ready to sell hemp flower crop for the 2019 season in January. He purchased seeds, labor and nutrients — and then the legislature banned the flower, meaning his crop was going to be worth substantially less than he had planned for.

“You get all the way, almost to the end and you think you’re going to be able to compete,” he said, “and then the state comes in and pulls the rug out from underneath you.”

Davidson, who runs Greener Side Gardens in Kokomo and has his own CBD product line, said he’s now planning to plant about a 10th of what he had, in part out of fear that more regulatory changes will happen.

“It’s just left so much uncertainty, constantly trying to pivot, readapt and reassess how we can move forward,” he said. “It definitely had potential, but it’s been very challenging.”

Hemp, an industry predicted to grow 34% annually by 2026, was supposed to be an added source of income for farmers struggling with falling prices for corn and soybeans or hoping to recover from recent trade wars and natural disasters. But the risk of going “hot” or losing profit from regulatory changes may be dissuading farmers from taking up on the opportunity of the industry.

“It’s not like destroying a row crop,” Mouzin said. “It’s much, much more expensive.”

Many farmers who test “hot” are still staying well under 1% THC levels, which is why they’re pushing for that to be the new cap.

The 0.3% THC limit is based on a 1970s research paper, Bolt said, but it’s largely been used out of context and was never meant to guide regulation. Recent research has shown psychoactive effects of THC tend to kick in around 1%, but most recreational cannabis contains closer to 30%.

Changes may be coming to Indiana as soon as this year that could ease the burden on farmers when it comes to THC.

Bolt said the state is in the process of resubmitting its state agriculture plan to the USDA, and it could include an option for farmers who test “hot” to request a retest. That would allow them to homogenize their sample — mix in high-content THC parts of the plant with low-content THC parts — and resubmit it in hopes of passing the 0.3% rule.

This may ease the burden on some hemp growers, Bolt said, especially as she’s skeptical that the 0.3% limit would be raised nationally anytime soon.

“I’m not sure how likely it is to move forward,” Bolt said. “I don’t know if it would even be in this administration.”

Growing pains

The thought of inadvertently producing a crop that must be destroyed is worrisome enough. But that’s not the only issue of concern for hemp growers.

Heading into the start of the growing season this spring, the Office of Indiana State Chemist is warning growers to be aware of hemp seed scams, as reports of untrustworthy vendors are reaching the office.

“We’ve seen that type of issue consistently from the beginning,” Robison said. “What we’ve seen lately is some willful opposition to follow the law.”

Some customers have purchased seeds that result in cannabis with too-high THC levels. Others, like Robert Colangelo, never get their seeds at all.

Colangelo, a hemp grower in Portage, Indiana, made a deal with a seed seller last year that he thought was a reputable source, but when time came to deliver, he disappeared. He didn’t take any of Colangelo’s money, thankfully, but it left him in the lurch for the people he was supposed to provide seedlings for.

“Once people are relying on you, and then those seeds are not there, it really creates a scramble,” he said. “And if you miss the planting deadlines, it really puts everybody at a disadvantage. Either they get their crop in later, which means it’ll grow smaller, or they’re not going to be able to get it in at all.”

To avoid scams, Bolt suggests using the Midwest Hemp database as a source for checking the qualities of the hemp strains you might be buying. And Robison’s office compiled a list of legitimate seed sellers for farmers and growers to depend on.

The list, which can be found online here, is a proactive measure, Robison said, but he doesn’t think scams like these will be a long-term issue.

“I think in five years,” he said, “we’ll have a lot of these problems behind us.”

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Is It Illegal to Grow Hemp? [Understanding the Legalities]

Hemp was one of the first crops cultivated by humankind. Archaeologists found evidence of hemp growing in modern-day China and Taiwan dating back 10,000 years! For the next 9,900 years or thereabouts, there were minimal issues associated with cultivating the crop.

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However, in the 20th century, the American Government decided to ban hemp and marijuana cultivation. Both plants come from the same genus (Cannabis) and species. As a consequence, they are, taxonomically speaking, the same plant. However, hemp contains little of the THC cannabinoid that causes an intoxicating high. Its primary cannabinoid is CBD, which offers many potential benefits without intoxication.

Even so, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made hemp and cannabis illegal throughout the United States. Then, America used its international influence to ensure almost complete global prohibition. This was the state of play for another 80 years. Finally, there was a breakthrough in 2018. However, does this mean you can grow hemp at home in any American state? Read on to find out the answer.

We also outline the state of play regarding commercial hemp cultivation throughout the United States.

The Lead-Up to Legalization

Despite the ban, the U.S. grew the crop during World War II as part of its Hemp for Victory program. In 1957, farmers in Wisconsin planted the last commercial hemp fields of the 20 th century. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act classified hemp and marijuana as Schedule I drugs. This led to strict regulations on the cultivation of both crops and severe penalties for anyone caught growing it. The ban caused a shortage of hemp products, which led to the United States importing food-grade hemp seed and oil in 1998.

The 2004 Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA case led to a critical yet seldom mentioned development. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the hemp industry. Its decision permanently protected the sales of hemp foods and body care products in the country.

In 2007, a pair of North Dakota farmers received hemp licenses, the first granted to anyone in half a century. The appetite for legal hemp grew. In 2014, President Obama signed a Farm Bill. It permitted research institutions to begin growing hemp in ‘pilot programs.’ However, it did not legalize commercial cultivation.

In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farm Act was introduced in the House and Senate. It was the first of numerous attempts to legalize hemp fully. The following year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded a Colorado farm an Organic certification for hemp. All roads were leading to legal hemp, and the big day finally arrived.

Did the Farm Bill of 2018 End Hemp Prohibition?

The answer is ‘yes’ in a federal sense. President Trump signed the Farm Bill (Agricultural Improvement of 2018) into law on December 20, 2018. It removed the hemp plant, along with its seeds and derivatives, from the Controlled Substances Act.

Although it allowed hemp growth throughout the United States, there was no obligation for every location to acquiesce. Each state has to submit its hemp program plan to the USDA for approval to implement the process. Once the USDA approves it, the state can proceed.

A couple of states continued to restrict hemp cultivation even after the Farm Bill became law. However, things have changed in recent times, as we’ll outline a little later on.

An eco-friendly option …

There are a few caveats mentioned in the Farm Bill. First of all, farmers must apply for an exclusive hemp growing license. Without it, they are breaking the law if they try to cultivate the crop. Also, all industrial hemp must contain a maximum of 0.3% THC. Unfortunately, hemp that exceeds this amount is destroyed.

This is devastating news whenever it happens. Apart from the cost of a license, hemp production is extremely labor-intensive. Newcomers to the industry must spend tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment and retrofits.

Growing the crop is potentially lucrative as at least 80% of hemp grown in America is for the CBD industry. Curiously, the Farm Bill of 2018 did not legalize CBD or any other cannabinoids. Nonetheless, it is sold in the vast majority of states. Now, let’s find out more about where industrial hemp is legal.

In What States Is It Legal to Grow Hemp?

By early 2020, industrial hemp farming was legal throughout the United States, except in Mississippi and Idaho. However, in June 2020, Mississippi lawmakers voted to legalize the crop in the state. This meant Idaho was the sole standout.

After a lengthy battle, proponents of hemp in Idaho finally achieved ‘victory’ in April 2021. Governor Brad Little signed H.B. 126 into law. This legislation legalizes the production, processing, research, and transportation of industrial hemp. As is the case in most states, Idaho farmers must follow the USDA’s final rule on hemp. The most important consideration is that the hemp can’t exceed a THC level of 0.3%.

Hemp cultivation is legal in all 50 states, though legislation in Idaho will take a few years to get into motion.

Therefore, the answer to the question ‘can you grow hemp in the U.S.?’ is finally ‘yes.’ It is now legal to grow industrial hemp in all 50 states. However, in Idaho, at least, farmers will likely have to wait until 2022 to proceed.

The Farm Bill relates specifically to commercial hemp growing. Therefore, it begs the question: Are you allowed to grow hemp at home?

Is It Legal to Grow Hemp for Personal Use?

Logically, the answer is ‘yes,’ right? After all, it is federally legal to grow hemp on huge farms as long as the crop contains less than 0.3% THC. Ever since December 2018, people around the U.S. have become excited at the prospect of growing hemp at home.

There were even ‘hemp meetings’ in different states. In these get-togethers, the hosts told attendees that they had the freedom to cultivate hemp outside in the same manner as they could grow tomatoes. This led to more than a few people pledging to spend thousands of dollars, creating a grow room indoors for hemp.

Not So Fast!

Unfortunately, the Farm Bill of 2018 did not address the issue of residential growth. The law was passed specifically to award the agriculture sector a new cash crop. The hope was that it would stimulate local economies and give struggling farmers a much-needed break.

As things stand, you are not permitted to grow hemp at home in states where cannabis cultivation is illegal. If you are caught cultivating hemp in these places, you are treated as if you have grown marijuana! Therefore, residents of states such as Georgia can’t grow hemp in their private residences.

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Everything you need to know fr…

If you live in a state such as Colorado or California, where it IS legal to grow cannabis, you are also allowed to grow hemp. However, it counts towards your overall cultivation limit. In Colorado, for example, you can cultivate a maximum of six cannabis plants. This means you can only grow six hemp plants at home and no marijuana. Alternatively, you can grow three hemp plants and three cannabis plants.

Wait, There’s More!

All of the above is only applicable for home growing. If you want to grow hemp outdoors, you need to apply for the commercial license issued by your state’s department of agriculture.

Even in states where cannabis cultivation is legal, the plants must remain out of public sight.

By the way, the approval process can take months. Apart from paying your fee, you also have to submit to a background check. There are also minimum requirements for square footage and acreage. You can’t grow ten hemp plants in a field and expect to get away with it! You even have to submit the GPS coordinates of your growing area to the federal government.

Is It Legal to Grow Industrial Hemp?

In a nutshell, it IS legal to cultivate industrial hemp in the United States. Every state has legalized the process as long as the crop contains a maximum of 0.3% THC by dry weight. However, you can ONLY cultivate hemp commercially once you receive the requisite permit from your state.

You can grow hemp at home but are bound by your state’s limits on cannabis plant cultivation. If it is illegal to grow marijuana in your state, it is illegal to grow hemp too! Also, you must keep your crop out of public view. You will face severe penalties for breaking your state’s laws.

How Can I Grow Hemp If I Don’t Have a Permit?

Without a permit for commercial hemp growing, your options are limited. However, residents of states such as Colorado, Oregon, California, and Washington are in luck.

These states produce lots of seeds or clones that enable you to grow CBD-rich marijuana plants. Recreational marijuana is also legal in all four states, so even if you can’t grow at home, finding high-CBD strains in a local dispensary is relatively easy. There are also many places selling industrial hemp plants, giving you a legal source of CBD.

Assuming that you are not a farmer, your best option is to grow genetically bred strains at home if it is legal to do so. For the record, high-CBD strains include:

Otherwise, you can buy CBD oil online. There are many sellers, and we cover some of the most reputable brands in our review section.

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation over whether or not you can purchase CBD oil in all 50 states. Technically, residents of a handful of locations risk breaking the law. In reality, a tiny fraction of people ever get into trouble, and thousands of CBD companies freely ship their products across the country without incurring the wrath of state authorities.

It is best to research your state’s laws on CBD oil and see if anyone has ever got into trouble for buying or selling the cannabinoid. Incidentally, please share any stories about legal issues and CBD that you have heard about in the comments!

Are Hemp Seeds Legal?

According to a growing number of people, hemp seeds are a superfood. They contain an array of nutrients, including protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. In general, you should be able to purchase hemp seeds in most states if their THC level doesn’t exceed 0.3%. This shouldn’t be a problem as hemp seeds contain negligible amounts of the compound.

However, bear in mind that in Idaho, for example, CBD products containing more than 0.1% THC are illegal. In Kentucky, products containing even trace amounts of THC are prohibited.

While hemp seeds contain little to none of the compound THC, it’s always advised to check the rules and regulations in your state.

Therefore, hemp seeds containing, say, 0.12% are technically illegal in both states. As a result, we urge you to check the rules of your state before even thinking about buying hemp seeds. That said, it is debatable whether such rules are likely to be enforced.

Incidentally, the USDA allows the importation of hemp seeds from Canada and several other countries. Yet this is only legal if the products have a phytosanitary certificate from the country of export that verifies the origin of the seeds. This documentation must also confirm that the seeds contain no plant pests.

Final Thoughts on Whether It Is Illegal to Grow Hemp at Home

Ultimately, the Farm Bill of 2018 applies to commercial hemp farming. Otherwise, you can only cultivate it in states where marijuana growing is legal. Even then, you have to adhere to the state’s maximum cannabis plant limit.

While it is unlikely that the police will raid a house in Colorado because you are growing eight hemp plants, you could technically get into legal trouble.

In reality, those who can grow a handful of hemp plants at home are likely better off sticking with high-CBD marijuana strains. Options such as Charlotte’s Web and ACDC will probably provide you with a far higher cannabidiol level.

If you intend on growing hemp, your only option is to send a commercial hemp cultivation application to your state’s department of agriculture. In this scenario, you are free to grow a significant amount. The trouble is, there are minimum limits that are likely too high for someone who only wants a dozen or so hemp plants.

On the plus side, every American state has now determined that growing industrial hemp is legal. However, the rules are not necessarily the same in every state, so check the rules before deciding to apply for a commercial license.