Massachusetts Hemp Overview

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  2. Massachusetts Hemp

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What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, like marijuana. The main difference between hemp and marijuana lies in the amount of certain cannabinoids (chemical compounds) in each. Hemp contains significantly low THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) levels compared to marijuana. THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating (high) feeling associated with cannabis. Hemp is often described as cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC content on a dry weight basis as required by USDA regulations. Usually, marijuana contains more than 0.3% THC concentration and can be as high as 25% or more. In Massachusetts, hemp is regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), while the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) oversees marijuana activities.

On the surface, marijuana and hemp look similar. However, on a closer look, the marijuana plant has flowers and buds and does not grow as tall. On the other hand, hemp plants are thinner and grow taller than marijuana plants. Hemp is also called industrial hemp because, besides other uses, it is commonly used in industrial productions for items such as hemp oil, textiles, plastics, and biofuels. The hemp plant parts and derivatives, including hemp hearts, hemp oil, hemp seed, hemp flower, hemp milk, and hemp extract, serve several purposes as outlined below:



  • Hemp Heart - The soft inner part of unshelled hemp seed. It contains all nine essential amino acids and offers health benefits like weight loss promotion, inflammation reduction, and improved heart health

  • Hemp Oil - This is extracted by cold-pressing the hemp seed and is medically beneficial in lowering blood pressure and relieving pain, among other health benefits

  • Hemp Seeds - These are the tiny brown seeds from which the hemp plant germinates. They can be eaten raw or used as milk

  • Hemp Flower - Hemp flower is usually the last part of the female hemp plant to grow and is known for its several therapeutic effects

  • Hemp Milk - Made by blending hemp seeds with water, hemp milk is an excellent alternative to dairy milk with several health benefits

Is Hemp Legal in Massachusetts?

Yes, hemp is legal in Massachusetts. The shot at legalizing hemp at the federal level began with the United States Agricultural Act of 2014, which empowered states to administer and regulate pilot programs for hemp production for research purposes. States that bought into it allowed their agriculture departments and institutions of higher education to grow hemp under such pilot programs. Also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014 was passed to determine whether hemp farming would be profitable for American businesses and farmers. Market research was permitted under the research purposes of the 2014 Farm Bill, and many states capitalized on this to establish programs to regulate hemp activities such as production, processing, and sale.

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill) was enacted to provide a pathway for hemp and legalize its production across the United States. It also removed hemp from the list of controlled substances, designated it as a commodity under crop insurance, and expanded hemp production. Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture (MDAR) provided the United States Department of Agriculture with its plan to administer hemp production in the Commonwealth in conformity with the Bill. The MDAR regulates hemp production in the Commonwealth as outlined in Sections 116 through 123 of Chapter 128 of the Massachusetts General Law (MGL).

While hemp is legal in Massachusetts, the Commonwealth does not have clear laws on cultivating or processing it at home or on personal property. However, any person or entity that wants to grow or process hemp on a commercial scale in the state must obtain a license from the MDAR. In compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and hemp products can cross state lines into and out of Massachusetts.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Massachusetts?

Hemp and hemp-derived products, including hemp CBD with no more than 0.3% THC are legal in Massachusetts. Although the Commonwealth now permits the retail sale of finished hemp flowers, the retail sale of raw flower/whole plant hemp is still prohibited because of the challenges in differentiating raw marijuana and raw hemp plant material. While residents can smoke hemp flowers, doing so in public or when operating a motor vehicle is prohibited. Any food product containing hemp-derived CBD cannot be wholesaled in Massachusetts.

Wholesale of any non-food product that makes medicinal claims and contains hemp-based CBD is prohibited in Massachusetts unless approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hemp-derived products that can be legally wholesaled in Massachusetts include hemp seed powder, hemp seed, hemp protein, and clothing. Others are non-food CBD products made for human consumption that do not make any medicinal claims, materials made from hemp fiber, and building materials. Hemp seed protein, hulled hemp, and hemp seed oil are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Hence, Massachusetts residents can grow hemp and use these products derived from it in food products and edibles.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Massachusetts?

Chapter 40A, Section 3 of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL) protects commercial agricultural use from special permit requirements or excessive regulations under municipal zoning ordinances. Since Hemp is exempt from the definition of marijuana, it qualifies for this protection. However, individuals need to review their municipality's zoning ordinances to determine whether their proposed hemp cultivation or processing is subject to further local zoning requirements.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in Massachusetts

Anyone or entity proposing to grow (produce) or process hemp in Massachusetts must apply to the state's Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) for a license. The MDAR issues a hemp producer license, a hemp processor license, and a hemp dual producer processor license. A hemp producer license holder is authorized to grow hemp, while a hemp processor license enables a person to process or convert hemp into a marketable form. A hemp dual producer processor license holder is approved to produce and process hemp.

To apply for any hemp license in Massachusetts, take the following steps:

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources

Attn: Hemp Program

225 Turnpike Road; Room 302

Southborough, MA 01772

How Much Does a License to Grow or Process Hemp Cost in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts hemp license applicants must pay a non-refundable $100 application fee by money order or check made out to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition to the application fee, they must also pay the following license fee based on the license type:

  • Processor license fee - $300

  • Producer license fee - $300

  • Dual producer/processor license fee - $500

The cost of renewing a Massachusetts hemp license is the same as the initial application for each license type.

How to Grow Hemp in Massachusetts

Massachusetts requires anyone or business interested in growing hemp in the state to obtain a hemp producer license. It is advised to wait until all the danger of frost has passed. During this period, the soil temperature is usually between 46 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is better to check for consistency in temperature for a few days before planting hemp seeds. The ideal soil for growing help is well-aerated soil whose pH is between 6 to 7.5.

The hemp seeds should be planted between 2.1 cm to 3.3 cm deep in the soil. If a person is growing hemp to harvest the seeds and CBD, it is best to plant the seeds far apart. However, they can be planted closely if the intended purpose is to produce fibers. Keeping hemp seeds closely together makes them grow up instead of branching out, which is good for fiber production. It is essential to water hemp during its growth cycle. The rate of water absorption increases each day until the hemp plant starts flowering, after which water absorption significantly drops. Absorption of water increases again during seed formation and late flowering. Typically, hemp needs 20 to 30 inches of rainfall during this cycle, and where precipitation is not adequate, irrigation becomes vital.

Like other crops, hemp growth can also be affected by pests and diseases. Common pests include cutworms, grasshoppers, and aphids. Hemp is subject to diseases such as root rot, blight, and white mold. Hemp farmers in Massachusetts can use pesticides on their crops in compliance with the Commonwealth's Pesticide Use on Hemp Policy. The MDAR permits the use of pesticides on hemp, provided such pesticides are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts permits the sale, purchase, and use of smokable hemp flowers. Residents can get finished hemp flowers from licensed dispensaries in the Commonwealth. Following the release of a policy statement regarding the sale of hemp-derived products in Massachusetts, hemp flowers can now be sold as a finished product. However, finished hemp flowers may only be sold by or to Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) licensees to the extent permitted by the Commission. As stipulated in the 2018 Farm Bill, states cannot interfere with the interstate movement of hemp or hemp products. Hence, businesses can ship hemp flowers into Massachusetts.

Hemp vs THC

Hemp and THC are different. Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant with no more than 0.3% THC. THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound (cannabinoid) in cannabis that produces a high feeling or sensation when consumed. It is the most prevalent and potent cannabinoid in cannabis plants.

Hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products can be purchased and sold in Massachusetts, provided the products' THC content on a dry weight basis does not exceed 0.3% in compliance with the 2018 Farm Bill. A person must be at least 21 years old to buy hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products in Massachusetts.

Hemp vs CBD

Although hemp and CBD are related, both are not the same. Hemp is a plant, a variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant, while CBD is one of the chemical components found in hemp. CBD is usually found in abundance in hemp plants. Per the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp-derived CBD products with no more than 0.3% THC are legal. CBD is non-psychoactive and is generally believed to have medicinal benefits. Hemp-based CBD products that meet the 2018 Farm Bill requirements can be sold in Massachusetts. However, Massachusetts prohibits selling food products containing CBD because CBD is not an approved ingredient under federal law.

Hemp Applications

Hemp has other various uses besides its medicinal usage. The following are some hemp applications in Massachusetts:

  • Plastic - Plastic can be made from hemp plant cellulose. Such plastic is usually stronger and more environmentally friendly than those made from petrochemicals

  • Textiles - Textiles such as rope, comfort garments, and ship sails can be made from hemp fibers. Clothing made from hemp is usually durable

  • Fuel - Hemp is now being used as a substitute for conventional fuels, especially in the production of biodiesel, which works well with traditional diesel engines

  • Animal Feed - Hemp is an excellent alternative to traditional animal feeds for birds and livestock that require complex diets

  • Construction - Hemp is now being used in this construction industry, with applications in the production of bricks, panels, insulators, and hempcrete. Foundations and walls constructed with hempcrete, a concrete formula made from hemp, are much stronger than those made with conventional concrete and weigh half as much

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