Grow, Gift, Repair

Nice Primer on Hemp

What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant, cannabis sativa.

Lebeaux compared it to different types of roses. “There are all different kinds of rosebushes, different colors, shapes, flowers, different fragrances, different degrees of hardiness … but they’re all roses,” Lebeaux said.

Unlike marijuana, hemp has no psychoactive qualities. That is because hemp does not have a significant amount of THC, which is the compound that causes someone to get high.

Massachusetts regulations define hemp as cannabis plants with less than 0.3 percent THC. Marijuana plants tend to contain 5 to 25 percent THC.

Lebeaux said hemp is reportedly one of the oldest crops people have grown.

Typically, hemp is used for fabrics and fibers. It was used to make cords for the shipping industry in New Bedford before cannabis became federally illegal in the 1930s. More recently, it has been used in paper manufacturing and as a building product in the construction industry, for insulation or to make a type of concrete.

Hemp also contains the compound CBD, which can be used to make marijuana-related health supplements.

Is hemp legal federally?

Like marijuana, hemp is legal under Massachusetts state law, but it remains illegal under federal law.

If a farmer is receiving federal money, those funds could be jeopardized by growing hemp. Land with a federally funded Agricultural Preservation Restriction cannot be used to grow hemp.

The only exception is federal law allows state agriculture departments and universities to grow hemp for research purposes under an agricultural pilot program.

When can someone start growing hemp?

Under a new policy established by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, a farmer needs to apply for license before they can start growing hemp.

Lebeaux said state officials want farmers to be able to grow this season, and the department hopes to approve applications “in a matter of days, not weeks.”

From an agricultural perspective, the spring planting season to grow hemp outdoors is beginning this month. Farmers who choose to grow in greenhouses can start at any time.

How much does a license cost?

Growers and processers must pay a $100 non-refundable license application fee, then $300 a year to maintain a license. A combined license to be both a grower and a processor costs $500 a year.

A processor is someone who extracts industrial hemp from the plant or who manufactures products like fabrics, building products or edibles.

How much interest is the state seeing in hemp?

MDAR only published its policy April 30. Lebeaux said the department has gotten “over 100 inquiries.” In the first week licensing was open, MDAR received one application.

Is local zoning approval required to grow hemp?

Unlike marijuana, hemp is granted the same protection as other types of commercial agriculture. That means anywhere a farmer can grow tomatoes or cucumbers, the farmer can grow hemp.

What type of security is required?

Farmers must post signs at the entrance to their fields stating that the crop is industrial hemp licensed by MDAR. Farmers must inform the local and state police that they are growing hemp. This should avoid confusion over whether the farmer is growing hemp or marijuana.

“One who were to illegally steal hemp plants because they thought they could get high from it are going to be extremely disappointed,” LeBeaux said.

What kind of ongoing regulation will there be?

MDAR will conduct regular inspections to measure the THC content of hemp crops. Any plant that has more than 0.3 percent THC will have to be destroyed.

There are some regulations that limit what pesticides can be used on hemp.

Farmers must also abide by energy efficiency standards established by the Cannabis Control Commission.