State of Hemp: Update on US Legislation

EDITORIAL NOTE: This article continues with state legislative efforts last reported on February 15th with the article States Poised to Take Advantage of US Farm Bill.

In the wake of the passing of the 2014 US Farm Bill in January there has been, as predicted, a further green wave of pro hemp legislation passed, and hemp research activity announced.

US hemp legislation map

Fourteen states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (depicted in green) have defined industrial hemp as distinct and removed barriers to its production, while six states: Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, and Tennessee (depicted in grey) are on the verge of passing industrial hemp legislation.

While there is great activity, how this shapes out is anyone’s guess. Questions about seed availability, the legal status of importing said seed, and what actions federal law enforcement (DEA) would take have all been raised. For example, two issues of state-to-state shipping: can viable seed/grain cross state lines? and what documentation is necessary? Some states appear to be more security obsessed, while others, under a mantra of costs recovery, have proposed expensive programs that are set up to fail, as would be hemp farmer balk at the cost of carrying such corpulence with their pocketbooks.

Other issues: is farm insurance available? Farm loans? What federal programs may be at risk because of state/federal disparity? A recent bulletin issued by the USDA follows the spirit of the Farm Bill and assures farmers that they can report hemp acreage, and presumably still qualify for a number of farm programs.

Processing, which is a vast topic on its own, is basically non-existent when it comes to fiber handling. Seed processing is in place in many states, but industrial hemp seed may have its own challenges. The supply and production chain in every jurisdiction has to be created. It is fair to say there is economic risk associated with hemp cultivation … which is true for any “new” crop or industry.

Several states are positioned to conduct hemp research. To date, only Kentucky and Hawaii have announced specific research programs (read more below). While recognizing that there are valid obstacles, questions, and legal gray areas, much comes down to political courage, leadership and vision.

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District of Columbia

In light of these uncertainties, Kentucky is one state that seems to be on track to not only addressing these concerns, but also benefits has a powerful federal backer — US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. On March 24th, Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture Secretary stated, “We are now involved in trying to figure out ways in which we might be able to use the industrial hemp seeds that are created in Ukraine in the US.” At the time of Vilsack’s statement, the intent was not necessarily clear. However, context was provided when Senator McConnell mentioned the difficulty in obtaining hemp seeds for research in Kentucky and the need to obtain them from Ukraine.

As for the powerful Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which as an institution has done so much in the modern era to block hemp cultivation across the USA, there has been no comment. Unofficially, they are in a period of policy review.


Ah, the wild west. Thanks to a state-wide ballot initiative regarding all cannabis laws, creating a rather liberal climate, Colorado had hemp in the ground last year. The ongoing assumption is that while hemp farming remains illegal federally, the feds will be leaving enforcement up to the individual states.

This 2013 hemp experience will be duplicated, repeated, and expanded this year. Under new rules, the state has set a $200 registration fee for license; as of mid-April, there were at least 43 applicants! Some will be engaged in research while others will be planting state-sanctioned commercial crops.

And it just keeps snowballing. A recent regional hemp expo in Windsor, CO sold out at 300 attendees (and will be followed by an event in Denver this fall). And based on exuberant popular interest and blue-sky commercial projections, state officials recently approved a bill that would expand the nascent industry, by allowing greenhouse growing year-round and to waive a previously self-imposed and legislated 10-acre limit on research.

Colorado State University has stated that it wants to become a center for hemp research, but details have yet to be announced and funding has not been accessed. Seed availability is an acute matter. Some seed is already in state via small mail order envelope shipments from abroad as well as harvested grain from last year that remains viable.

The industrial hemp section of the Colorado Department of Agriculture has full details.


Hawaii has committed to a University of Hawaii pilot program, focusing on tapping into hemp’s fast-growing abundance for biofuels and phytoremediation. There will be one site and the program will last two years, with reporting in 2016. As an island state in middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii runs an energy deficit, and homegrown fuel would reduce its impact on dirty imports such as coal and oil (currently at least 90% of Hawaii’s energy consumption profile) and help expand local state green fuel production. Of note, the US Army Corps of Engineers would be a project partner. Meanwhile: using hemp as a soil toxin remover would curtail the need to excavate or relocate contaminated earth, decreasing costs and the shoveling of toxic waste into other areas. This part of the study should come up with immediately useful data and evaluation.

The bill has passed the state senate and waits a signature on the desk of the governor, Neil Abercrombie.


In late April Illinois lawmakers passed House Bill 5085, amending the state’s Cannabis Control Act and creating a clause allowing for hemp research. Of interest, the Department of Agriculture has been given peremptory powers under Emergency Legislation to develop rules on the fly in order to keep pace with the federal situation and also to facilitate hemp research, but only if they are contacted by a qualified research institution.

It’s really a bit of a sausage. The Department of Human Services, which regulate drugs, still has authority, despite the agriculture provision. Sources say that the first version of the bill proposed a licensing scheme with a cost to hemp farmers of $150 per license, plus $5/acre thereafter with a capped maximum price of $300 total. This was rejected as insufficient by the state’s Department of Agriculture, who wanted a half million to cover salaries for four new department employees to conduct analytical testing of crops for THC content.

Thus, while the bill has passed the house, no research program(s) have been announced. Some leadership will be needed to make this work. The Senate version of the bill is presently in committee.

Pro Hemp Illinois license plate


Back in March, Indiana approved state legislation allowing for commercial hemp growth, establishing a license scheme and associated regulations as well as scientific study. Senate Bill 357 allows for creation of a state-run program, but as of April wary authorities are stalling before proceeding and have asked for further federal approval and guidance from USDA and DEA, despite the green light given by the Farm Bill research provision. “Clarification of how to conduct legal advertisement, sale and trade of industrial hemp under federal and state law is of critical interest,” says Robert Waltz, State Chemist and Seed Commissioner.

It will be at least another year for hemp to be planted in Indiana’s loamy Miami soils.

The Office of Indiana State Chemist, located at Purdue University has information on the industrial hemp program and recent state actions.


Iowa is not moving further on hemp. Despite the federal Farm Bill clause (Section 7606), local legislators see it as limited measure. Hemp is still classified a as noxious weed, commercial legislation has been unsuccessful to date at the state level and critics point out that hemp is not classified as a commodity and so lacks federal protections and programs to aid the farmer, who are doing well enough with largely GMO soy and corn rotations anyway.


Matching Colorado with ambition, but in a very different style, Kentucky has announced a comprehensive hemp research program that will put the state as the national leader.

Under the aegis of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, six state universities will cooperate in 5 research programs. Each project will have a different cultivars and end goals.

The University of Kentucky will grow an Asian cultivar to study industrial hemp production and also biomedical cannabinoid research. The University of Louisville will study bioremediation and Kentucky State University will grow state heirloom seeds for industrial use in association with the Homegrown by Heroes farm veterans marketing program. Murray State University will grow European cultivars for fiber studies. Meanwhile Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University both will grow Canadian cultivars for industrial and renewable energy projects.

Meanwhile, as noted above, Kentucky continues to display big picture leadership and continue federal negotiations to dispel some of the murkiest cast form the disparity in federal and state laws. The state’s attorney general will pursue a blanket waiver from the federal authorities to cover hemp activities including commercial cultivation; as well, the state is seeking clarifications on the process of importing viable seed. Further an interesting geopolitical aspect has raised with the possibility of supporting Ukraine through importing hemp seed and grain. Ukraine of course, never had hemp prohibition, and hemp is a major crop there; the Institute of Bast Fibres in Hlukiv has developed many fiber and dual use cultivars, some of which have been planted extensively in Canada over the past decade.


The 2014 Farm Bill was signed by Barack Obama at the University of Michigan, so it’s maybe natural that the state would at least look into hemp research. To that end, a bill (HB 5439) has been introduced in the State House of Representatives. Authorizing research by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, state colleges and universities. This bill is coupled with a second (HB 5440) that defines hemp as distinct from marijuana — especially important as the medical cannabis movement gathers strength (MI has its own program for that). Given entrenched and conflicting attitudes towards cannabis statewide, proponents are expecting opposition. If passed, this legislation will allow hemp research by 2015.


A research bill, HF2315, that could see hemp being grown in state in accordance with the Farm Bill is being sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, a long-time hemp advocate. As a research bill, the legislation would authorize activity in pilot programs, under the supervision of the state’s agricultural commissioner and could also include schools. This bill stipulates that a fee structure to cover administrative costs would have to be devised by Jan 2015. Unless it is fast tracked, the proposed bill would not take effect until July 2015, meaning field trials would have to wait until the following year.


In early April, Nebraska passed Legislative Bill 1001 that would allow the University of Nebraska and State Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for research. Bill proponent State Senator Norm Wallace says that hemp has a place in making common corn/wheat crop rotations more efficient. Research, if conducted would be on testing seeds adaptability to Nebraska climate and soil. Future commercial growers would pay a fee of five dollars per acre, with a minimum fee set at $150 dollars per licensee. Interestingly, Nebraska sets it THC limit in hemp, at 1%, far higher than the usual international standard of 0.3%.

New York

Thanks to Governor Chris Christie’s intransigence, New Jersey failed to pass a hemp cultivation bill earlier this year. So, research? Not happening. So, we move across the Hudson River. The Empire State is now looking at two new companion bills allowing for commercial growth and research. Proponents say that Cornell University and the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry have expressed interest in participating in projects. Of interest: Cornell’s Dr. Anil Netravil is a researcher in the field of renewable composites using natural materials (including hemp), and a field research program would add value to his ongoing work.

North Dakota

North Dakota was the first state to legalize hemp farming, and even issued licenses to farmers Dave Monson and Wayne Hague. Facing intransigence from the federal level, Hague and Monson started a legal challenge that was ultimately defeated in 2008, with the courts saying that Congress, not the Bench, needed to make the change. Meanwhile, North Dakota State University (NDSU) had tried for years to start a hemp seed research program and had figured a cost of $80-90K to build a DEA licensed secure facility. Half of that “seed” money was made available by the state, but it was never accessed. The program did not start because of federal delays and obfuscation.

The take home message to many was that hemp was more trouble than it was worth.

A half decade later, with the DEA seemingly out of the picture, the options may be more attractive. NDSU has been studying hemp (but not grown it) for 15 years, pretty much since when growth started in Canada. Hemp has long been recognized as viable opportunity, but no research plots have been announced to date. North Dakota legislature is in session biannually, with 2014 being an off year. Therefore, its anticipated that Representative Dave Monson will amend current legislation to tie-in with the 2014 Farm Bill provision that sidesteps the previous requirement for a permit to be issued by the DEA, thus allowing NDSU to grow hemp for research purposes.


“The only way to reliably determine the potential of (fiber) hemp in the PNW is through field testing over several years at multiple locations under commercial production conditions.” Daryl T. Ehrensing, Feasibility of Industrial Hemp Production in the United States Pacific Northwest, May 1998.

Apparently, few people read these days. Maybe Ehrensing should have gone into video. Despite strong grassroots interest, and commercial legislation already in place, Oregon will not be ready with rules for field research in 2014. Spokesmen for the Department of Agriculture and the University of Oregon have both demurred on the research opportunity citing a lack of expertise, and available land as well legal advice to not risk jeopardizing federal funding for other programs.

Lack of funding may be the real difference maker. Without some budgetary support from the state purse, the program would have to rely on user fees. Controversially, this licensee pay scheme could involve a figure as high as $5,000-$7,000 for each farmer. That’s simply a non-starter.

Noelle Crombie is a journalist with the Oregonian who recently wrote the following article, Industrial hemp in Oregon: Rules won’t be ready for spring planting.


A commercial hemp bill — HB 2445 — has passed in Tennessee with very strong support from lawmakers and has landed on the governor’s desk for signature.

The strongly worded act compels the Department of Agriculture to issue regulations that license 4 months after coming in law. There will be no research in 2014, but good possibilities exist for future years. The Middle Tennessee State University is one school interested in a pilot program, particularly if a commercial sponsor/partner can be found.

Tobacco used to be a major crop in Tennessee, but proponents think hemp could be a viable substitute long term for some farmers.

Of particular comparative interest are the cost and revenue projections. State lawmakers have estimated $13,000-$26,000 in statewide licensee fees will fully fund the program.


HB 105, the “Plant Extract Amendment”, was passed in March, allowing for hemp agricultural or research only. The bill also allows for people with intractable epilepsy to possess and use plant extracts to treat their condition. The linkage here, for folks who haven’t been following medical marijuana developments, is that hemp, while low in psychoactive Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a much better source of cannabidiol (CBD). And high CBD content cannabis oil has been linked to successful and effective treatment of many forms of epilepsy in many patients, including children.

Because kids are involved, conservatives have had to do a compassionate rethink on cannabis. Only the most stone-hearted would want to deny families access to an increasingly well documented therapy.

The hope here is that hemp may be a low-hassle way to provide CBD therapy without getting involved further in the politics of medical marijuana or addressing cannabis prohibition on a broader scale.

There are questions of course around this well-intentioned measure. Distribution is not clearly addressed. Culinary hemp oil is made from crushing the seed and seed is not a source of cannabinoids. Plant extracts (also “oil”) made from the leaf and flowers, despite their origin, are still considered a controlled substance and go beyond what is usually legally defined as hemp. Further, the state law only allows possession of oils with less than 0.3% THC and at least 15% CBD. But CBD in hemp is often fairly low and may not be significant. Cultivar, growing conditions, extraction all form a matrix that matters. Breeding may be needed. Which may be beyond lawmaker’s expectations.

Other states have passed similar cannabis/CBD derivatives legislation, but that’s beyond the scope of this report.


Interest in Vermont is strong and there are hopes that a seed trial will manifest in time this year. Seed availability may be an issue. While the state is supportive and has appropriate regulations in place and but with no DEA sign off, the possibility of unexpected liability is a chill on ambitions.

“We’re sort of working through that to make sure we have a strong go ahead from the federal government not just sort of a soft one,” Heather Darby, agronomist with University of Vermont, told Vermont Public Radio.

If seed availability is not sorted in time for 2014 planting, advocates project the next year will see a mushrooming of research.

Interest in hemp ranges from value added food production to on farm biofuel production. Rural Vermont is a strong, consistent advocate of state hemp issues and reports that as of early April 12 farmers had paid their $20 (yes, that’s right: twenty bucks) and registered to grow hemp.

Learn more about the Vermont Hemp Campaign.

West Virginia

House Bill 3011, a bill that allows and regulates industrial hemp research received approval from the state Governor’s office in late March. A license will be required at no cost, though the applicant must provide fingerprints and bear the cost of a criminal record check. However, at this time only employees with Department of Agriculture and state institutions of higher learning will be eligible to be receive a license industrial hemp. Reportedly both WVU and West Virginia State University are interested in hemp research. The bill takes effect 90 days after passage (June), so trials in 2015 are a possibility.

Other States and Postscript

It’s been a busy year and the state level activity is not limited to this short digest. As of writing, other states including Missouri are just beginning or soon to begin the legislative process. Meanwhile pro cannabis Washington State has yet to emerge with licensing information for industrial hemp. There is always more to come. To keep track of hemp legalization’s sometimes byzantine complexity, VoteHemp is the most comprehensive and up to date source for all domestic efforts in the USA.