The information here should provide answers to frequently asked questions about hemp in Massachusetts, the MA Hemp Program, policies, licensing, testing, and more.
Guide Hemp in Massachusetts: FAQs
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. THC testing is required differentiate between hemp and marijuana.
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. To be considered hemp, the cannabis plants must 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.
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.
Is growing hemp legal under federal law?
Yes, provided you comply with the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (“2018 Farm Bill”) and the United States Department of Agricultural Resources (“USDA”) Domestic Hemp Production Rule (7 CFR 990) (“Final Rule”). 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 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. You must be licensed by MDAR if you intend to engage in the production or research of hemp in Massachusetts. For more information on obtaining a license to grow or process hemp in Massachusetts, please visit: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/ma-industrial-hemp-program-licensing
What is the impact of the 2018 Farm Bill on the hemp industry?
The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill set the stage for major changes to the Industrial Hemp industry in the United States 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 have been established as the regulatory authority for hemp production under a USDA-approved state plan. States and Tribes 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.
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Does Massachusetts have a USDA-approved state plan?
Yes. The MA Hemp Program is currently operating under a State Plan approved by USDA under the Interim Federal Rule on May 7, 2020. We are actively working to update our State Plan to incorporate the key provisions the Final Rule. However, until our revised state plan is approved, we will continue operating under the current state plan.
The Final Rule and accompanying guidance materials are available here at the USDA website: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp
How do I obtain a license to grow or process hemp in Massachusetts?
Any individual or business that wants to grow or process hemp for commercial purposes in the Commonwealth can apply for a license through MDAR. For more information about applying for a hemp license, please visit the MA Industrial Hemp Program Licensing page.
How much does a license to grow or process industrial hemp cost?
Does USDA offer hemp licensing in Massachusetts?
No. The MA Hemp Program is the sole licensing entity for hemp production in Massachusetts. You must be licensed by MDAR if you intend to engage in the production or research of hemp in Massachusetts. The 2018 Farm Bill directed USDA to establish a national regulatory framework for hemp production in the United States and established States and Tribes as the regulatory authority.
USDA published a Final Rule, effective March 22, 2021, that provides regulations for the production of hemp in the United States, and States and Tribes must submit a state plan to USDA for approval that demonstrates compliance with the Final Rule
Can a municipality put restrictions on growing hemp?
Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40A, Section 3, commercial agricultural use is protected from unreasonable regulations or special permit requirements under local municipal zoning ordinances or bylaws. While marijuana is expressly excluded from this protection, hemp is exempt from the definition of marijuana under Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017, and therefore eligible for the same protection as other forms of commercial agriculture as defined in M.G.L. c. 128, Section 1A. The determination as to whether any of these zoning protections may apply is made on a case-by-case basis and determined by the specific facts surrounding your individual property and proposed use. You will need to review your municipality’s zoning ordinances or bylaws to determine whether your proposed use is subject to any additional local zoning requirements.
Am I able to grow hemp on APR land or land subject to an Agricultural Covenant held by the Department?
Yes, land subject to an APR or Agricultural Covenant is now eligible for hemp production and processing provided the activity is licensed and in compliance with all other terms of the APR or Agricultural Covenant.
For more information on hemp on land subject to a Department APR or Agricultural Covenant, please see the following guidance: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/hemp-and-marijuana-production-on-apr-and-farm-viability-protected-lands
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Does the Cannabis Control Commission have any involvement in the Hemp Program?
MDAR is the sole authority in regulating hemp within the Commonwealth under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 128. However, due to the nature of this crop and the parallels that arise between hemp and marijuana, MDAR is working with the Cannabis Control Commission to ensure that both agencies are aware of each program’s jurisdiction and overlapping issues.
Will the Department be inspecting licensed facilities?
Yes. MDAR will conduct inspections in order to ensure compliance with Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 128, Sections 116 through 123.
Where can I get Department-approved hemp seed?
The Department does not provide a list of approved hemp seed vendors. To qualify as an approved seed distributor, seeds must be accompanied by documentation demonstrating that that they will produce hemp with a THC level of no more than 0.3 percent.
Is there a list of hemp growers and/or processors available?
The list of MA Hemp Growers and Processors contains information for all active hemp licenses issued in the Commonwealth pursuant to M.G.L. c. 128, Section 118 and 7 CFR 990. Hemp growing and processing site information is confidential and not subject to public disclosure as set forth in M.G.L. c. 128, Section 118. The list is provided for informational purposes only and does make any legal representations as to anything other than the license status of the individual or entity listed as of the date last updated.
As a Processor, can I utilize crops that were grown outside of Massachusetts?
Hemp and Hemp-derived products used for processing may be obtained from any Producer licensed by the Department, USDA, or under a USDA-approved plan from a jurisdiction outside the Commonwealth, or as otherwise authorized under federal law, provided all conditions have been met as set forth by the Department under Massachusetts law. Hemp produced in states that are operating under an extension of the 2014 farm bill or without a USDA-approved plan is not eligible for importation into Massachusetts unless otherwise approved in writing by the Department prior to importation. For a current list of states operating under the USDA or a USDA approved state plan, please visit: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/hemp/state-and-tribal-plan-review.
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What kinds of pesticide products can I use on my hemp?
Because the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) does not allow for the use of any registered pesticide products on hemp or marijuana, Massachusetts prohibits the use of registered pesticides in Cannabis. There are products available which are exempt from EPA pesticide registration requirements. These products or the ingredients within them are considered minimum risk by EPA. Please refer to EPA’s website to find more information about these products and ingredients that are safe for use in Cannabis.
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Can I get a pesticide registered for use on Cannabis in Massachusetts?
For a pesticide to be allowed for use in Cannabis in MA, it must be registered for use in Cannabis by the EPA. For more information on EPA pesticide registration, please visit the EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/about-pesticide-registration
Will I be allowed to cultivate hemp for food, or manufacture edible products that contain hemp?
The FDA has completed evaluations of three hemp products: hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed protein, and hemp seed oil, and indicated they are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). The use of these hemp or hemp-derived products in food is legal. However, cannabidiol (“CBD”) derived from hemp is still undergoing evaluations for use as a food additive or supplement and a determination has not yet been made relative to its use in products intended for consumption.
Can I sell CBD or other hemp-derived products in MA?
Is it legal to manufacture delta-8 THC from hemp?
Because delta-8 THC is not naturally occurring in hemp (except for possible trace amounts), to produce delta-8 THC in commercial quantities it must be derived from hemp synthetically. While the Farm Bill did remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, it did not impact the control status of synthetically derived cannabinoids, thus delta-8 THC remains a controlled substance, regardless of the source. As a result, we do not allow hemp-derived delta-8 THC products to be processed or sold in Massachusetts.