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.

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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, any 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.

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Does Massachusetts have a state plan ready to submit to USDA?

MDAR is waiting for additional guidance from USDA before developing a plan to ensure compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill and regulations or guidance that will be promulgated by USDA.   

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.           

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How much does a license to grow or process industrial hemp cost?

License Type

Application Fee

License Fee

Grower

$100 non-refundable

$300

Processor

$100 non-refundable

$300

Dual Grower/Processor

$100 non-refundable

$500

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 now?

No.  The federal legalization of Industrial Hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill does not change the eligibility of APR land or land subject to an Agricultural Covenant to allow for the cultivation of hemp.

In the event of a legislative change to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 61A, any APR that has been acquired by MDAR using federal funds or that contains language within the APR limiting activities involving a federally prohibited crop would not be eligible to engage in most activities related to marijuana or hemp.

Does the Cannabis Control Commission have any involvement in the Hemp Program?

As the authority over hemp in the Commonwealth falls under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 128, MDAR is the sole authority in regulating hemp within the Commonwealth. 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.

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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.

I want to purchase hemp to process in Massachusetts, is there a list of hemp growers available?

Processors may only use Industrial Hemp from a Massachusetts licensed Grower, unless otherwise authorized by federal law, and will require documentation demonstrating that such federal authorization is permitted. The Department does not provide a list of licensed Massachusetts hemp growers; however, you may be able to find more information about MA Industrial Hemp Program participants through a public records request.

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Can I process crops that were grown outside of Massachusetts?

No. The MA Commercial Hemp Policy does not allow a processor to utilize hemp that was grown outside of Massachusetts. The only exception to this is if such hemp to be processed was obtained lawfully under federal law from an approved source. We are still waiting on guidance from USDA as to how domestically grown, unprocessed hemp may be transported over state lines and as such no unprocessed hemp grown in the United States may be brought into Massachusetts for processing at this time.

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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

 

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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.

 

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