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Guide Hemp in Massachusetts: FAQs

The information provided here should help users interpret the Massachusetts Commercial Industrial Hemp Policy and provide answers to frequently asked questions about Industrial Hemp in the Commonwealth.

Table of Contents

What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Hemp is a non- psychoactive variety of the plant specifically cultivated for industrial uses. Hemp has no use as a recreational drug. Both hemp and marijuana are defined under Massachusetts law, and jurisdiction for hemp is given to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (“MDAR”) while marijuana falls under the Cannabis Control Commission. For more information, see Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 128 , Sections 116 through 123 and Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017. Under Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017, hemp is excluded from the definition of marijuana and defined separately both there and within Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 128, Section 116 so for the purposes of state law there is also a legal distinction between the two.

Does hemp look like marijuana?

Yes. Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species, and cannot be distinguished visually. However, due to differences in the end use product, hemp and marijuana are generally cultivated differently, resulting in plants that can look different based on the growing methods used.

Does hemp contain THC?

Plants in the genus Cannabis contain unique compounds called cannabinoids. There are at least 113 different cannabinoids produced by cannabis plants. The most notable of these cannabinoids is delta 9- tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. THC is the primary psychoactive compound found in marijuana. While marijuana plants contain high levels of THC (typically between 5-25%), the varieties used for hemp contain very little. Hemp has been selectively bred to contain no more than 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis.

What kinds of products are made from hemp?

Hemp is an extremely versatile plant with a multitude of uses. It can be cultivated for use as a fiber crop, seed crop, or for production of cannabinoids found in the flowers. Hemp products manufactured from the fibrous stalks and seeds include rope, clothes, food, paper, textiles, plastics, insulation, oil, and biofuel.

How will MDAR be able to tell if a grower is growing hemp or marijuana?

MDAR will be testing the crop prior to harvest in order to ensure that the crop contains less than 0.3% THC.

What method do you use to test for THC?

The method we use is called high-performance liquid chromatography, or HPLC. As hemp in Massachusetts is defined as “The plant of the genus cannabis and any part of the plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 THC concentration that does not exceed 0.3 per cent on a dry weight basis or per volume or weight of marijuana product or the combined per cent of delta-9-THC and tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) in any part of the plant of the genus cannabis regardless of moisture content”, we test for the total THC using the following formula: delta-9 THC + (THCa * 0.877). This method, or a similar one that uses decarboxylation, is required under the 2018 Farm Bill for state departments of agriculture that want to have their hemp regulatory plans approved by USDA.

What is total THC, and why does it include THCa?

THCa is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in hemp. When heated (decarboxylated), THCa is converted to delta-9 THC, which is the primary psychoactive compound found in Cannabis. While delta-9 THC may be present in raw hemp, it is produced in negligible quantities, so to get an accurate representation of the amount of delta-9 THC in the hemp, we use the total THC, or a method that uses decarboxylation to determine the delta-9 THC in the hemp.

Can I grow or process hemp in Massachusetts?

Under MA state laws, a ny person proposing to plant, grow, harvest, process, or sell Industrial Hemp in Massachusetts must obtain a license issued by the Department of Agricultural Resources. Currently, there are 3 different license types available for growers, processors, and those engaged in both growing and processing. A Grower is a person who cultivates Industrial Hemp, and a Processor converts Industrial Hemp into a marketable form through extraction or manufacturing.

Is growing hemp legal under federal law now?

The 2018 Farm Bill created a distinction between hemp and marijuana under federal law recognizing hemp as an agricultural commodity, and removing it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act. The 2018 Farm Bill also authorized the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) to develop regulations and guidelines related to the cultivation of hemp, establishing that hemp cultivation in the United States will require licensing, either through USDA, or in accordance with a state plan developed by a state department of agriculture and approved by USDA. Until such time as USDA develops regulations and guidance, Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized Agricultural Research Programs through state departments of agricultural or universities of higher education, remains in place. States are awaiting further direction and guidance from USDA as to how to proceed with developing, expanding, and implementing hemp programs within their jurisdiction.

Until such time as Massachusetts receives additional information or a legislative change is made, MDAR will continue to implement existing Massachusetts law. Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 128, Sections 116 through 123, growing hemp for commercial purposes in Massachusetts falls under the jurisdiction of MDAR, and the planting, growing, harvesting, processing, and retail sale of hemp and hemp products requires licensing by MDAR. MDAR is currently licensing only growing and processing activities related to hemp. Activities that may require registration (i.e. agricultural research programs) or other licensing under M.G.L. c. 128, Section 118 will be addressed at a later date.

What is the impact of the 2018 Farm Bill and federal hemp legalization on the MDAR hemp program?

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill set the stage for major changes to the Industrial Hemp industry in the United States. There are a number of immediate changes to the legal status of hemp, including but not limited to, the following:

  • Hemp has been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, and is now considered an agricultural commodity rather than a drug, although still subject to state and federal oversight.
  • Hemp is now eligible for federal crop insurance and hemp farmers may now participate in USDA programs for certification and competitive grants.
  • States and Tribes may impose additional restrictions or requirements on hemp production and the sale of hemp products; however, they cannot interfere with the interstate transport of hemp or hemp products.
  • It is important to remember that no changes were made to the United States Federal Drug Administration’s (“FDA”) jurisdiction or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

However, many of the changes to hemp production in the US will take time to roll out. Under the new law, USDA must establish a federal plan and promulgate regulations and guidelines for the production of hemp in the US. In addition, each state must submit a plan for the oversight of hemp within their boundaries for federal approval. Until the federal plan is released, and state programs are approved, section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill remains in place until a year after such oversight is promulgated and there will be no immediate changes to the status of hemp program requirements in Massachusetts.

Guide Hemp in Massachusetts: FAQs The information provided here should help users interpret the Massachusetts Commercial Industrial Hemp Policy and provide answers to frequently asked questions