Washington Hemp Overview

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What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a cultivar of the cannabis sativa plant cultivated for industrial purposes. It has been cultivated for decades and is one of the world's oldest domesticated crops. Hemp is farmed for its fiber, seeds, and oil, used in various items such as textiles, paper, construction materials, biofuels, and food.

The key chemical difference between hemp and marijuana is the concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound responsible for the "high" associated with marijuana consumption. THC levels in hemp are generally low (0.3% or less), whereas marijuana can have significantly greater amounts (up to 30%). Hemp plants are taller and slenderer than marijuana plants, with thinner leaves and a distinct branching system.

The term "industrial hemp" is often used interchangeably with hemp since hemp is grown mainly for industrial uses rather than for its psychotropic effects. "Industrial hemp" is frequently used to distinguish it from other cannabis sativa plant types produced for their euphoric effects.

Hemp plants and their many components have several uses. Among the most popular applications are:

  • Hemp seeds: Hemp seeds are nutrient-dense and a dietary source that may be consumed raw or ground into hemp milk, oil, or protein powder. They include a lot of protein, good fats, and fiber and may be used in many dishes
  • Hemp oil: Hemp oil is produced from hemp plant seeds and is used in several items such as food, cosmetics, and vitamins. It has anti-inflammatory qualities and is high in vital fatty acids
  • Hemp flower: The hemp plant's flower contains many chemicals, including CBD (cannabidiol), which is thought to provide various health benefits. CBD oil and other supplements may be made from hemp flower
  • Hemp extract: Hemp extract is a concentrated version of the substances in hemp plants, such as CBD and other cannabinoids. It is frequently used for its possible health benefits, which include pain relief and the anxiety relief
  • Hemp hearts: Hemp hearts are raw, hulled seeds of the hemp plant that are strong in protein, healthy fats, and other minerals. They may be consumed raw or cooked in several ways

Is Hemp Legal in Washington?

Prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, hemp was categorized along with marijuana as a Controlled substance in the United States, making it illegal to possess or cultivate. However, the 2014 Farm Bill established a provision allowing states to develop pilot hemp research programs. This move permitted states to legalize the cultivation of hemp for research purposes. The 2018 Farm Bill removed more restrictions on hemp, declassifying it from marijuana as a controlled drug. However, hemp may not contain more than 0.3% THC under the bill. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and transportation of hemp across state lines.

Before the 2018 Farm Bill, the Washington Senate passed Senate Bill 6206 in 2016, legalizing the cultivation of hemp for research purposes under the IHRP (Industrial Hemp Research Pilot) program. The IHRP permitted growers to cultivate hemp for research purposes but not for commercial production. The state's senate passed SB 5276 in 2019, requiring the Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to develop an agriculture commodity program to replace the IHRP program.

Currently, Washington operates a hemp program in accordance with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved hemp regulatory plan. The program allows residents to grow hemp indoors or outdoors upon obtaining hemp producer licenses. Hemp and hemp products may also be shipped across state lines if they comply with the Washington hemp regulatory plan regulations.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Washington?

Hemp products containing no more than 0.3% THC are legal in Washington. The state allows hemp production consistent with the federal Farm Bill.

Washington allows WSDA to regulate hemp processing for food products allowable under federal law in the same way it regulates food processing. If the federal FDA approves food ingredient uses for hemp extracts, such as CBD, the state will permit those uses. WSDA-licensed food processors in Washington can currently use hemp products in food, such as hulled hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, and hemp seed protein powder. However, CBD is not allowed to be used as a food ingredient in the state.

While smokable hemp is legal in Washington, smoking in public is not. Hence, drivers are advised to refrain from smoking hemp while driving. Also, with many law enforcement officers unable to differentiate between hemp and marijuana, you may be arrested for smoking cannabis in public.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Washington?

No Washington municipality is allowed to ban the cultivation or processing of hemp within its borders. However, specific regulations regarding where cultivation and processing sites may be located, and buffer requirements from specific entities may apply in some jurisdictions.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in Washington

Only hemp farmers are licensed under the Hemp Program administered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Per Section 15.140.060 of the Revised Code of Washington, the WSDA must issue hemp producer licenses to applicants qualified under that chapter of the state law and the 2018 Farm Bill. The license permits the licensee to grow and process hemp in the state. Although hemp processors can register with the WSDA and get registration certificates, the certificates are only to register their businesses with the WSDA and not a form of licensure.

Also, per state law, no agency in Washington has regulatory authority over hemp processors. The only authority required is for food processing which requires the applicant to be licensed through the WSDA Food Safety Division. For more information on obtaining a license from the WSDA Food Safety division, see the processing and manufacturing tab on the hemp program page of the WSDA website.

Before applying for a hemp producer license, you must obtain a criminal history report showing that you have not been convicted of a felony related to controlled substances. An applicant with a state or federal felony conviction for a controlled substance is subject to a 10-year ineligibility restriction on producing hemp in Washington. However, an exception to this rule applies if you were lawfully growing hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill prior to December 20, 2018 and if your conviction also occurred before that date.

Per Section 16-306 of the Washington Administrative Code, a hemp producer application must include a criminal history report completed within 60 days of the application date. A completed criminal history report is required for each key participant if you are applying as a business entity. A key participant is any person with a direct or indirect financial interest in the hemp production entity, such as an owner or partner in a partnership. A key participant may also include persons in a corporate entity at executive levels, including the COO, CFO, and CEO. Shift managers, farm managers, and field managers are not included in the definition of a key participant. You may visit the Washington State Patrol Website for more information on obtaining a criminal history report.

To initiate the application, you must visit the hemp license application portal on the WSDA website. On the portal, attach the background check and supporting documentation. In accordance with Section 16-306-040 of the Washington Administrative Code, a hemp producer license applicant must provide the following information on the application:

  • The name, email address, telephone number, and business address of the applicant
  • For Individuals, a social security number
  • For businesses, the type of business entity (LLC, partnership, etc.), business license number, EIN, the state or country where the business is incorporated, and the name and address of the entity’s agent in Washington State
  • The legal description (section, township, and range) in which the proposed registered land area is located
  • Geospatial location coordinates of proposed fields, greenhouses, or other sites where hemp is produced

After completing the application, you will receive an email notification with an invoice for your application fee. You may pay the fee with a check sent to the address on your invoice, including the reference (invoice number). Note that the application processing will be delayed if there is missing information. However, the WSDA will notify you about the needed information by email. Once the application is complete and the check is received, your license will be issued.

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

The following are associated fees with the hemp program in Washington:

  • Annual License Fee: $1200
  • License Modification Fee: $200
  • Late Licensing Fee (After March 31): $200

How to Grow Hemp in Washington

You may grow hemp indoors and outdoors after obtaining a hemp producer license from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). The WSDA registration must also approve your grow area prior to commencing cultivation. At the side of each registered land area listed on the application, you must post a sign indicating the following:

  • Your WSDA-issued license number
  • Crop type
  • The WSDA contact phone number

Note that you must provide the source of your hemp seeds in the application submitted to the WSDA. Since there are no restrictions on buying hemp seeds, it is up to you to do the due diligence when choosing the right seed bank for your needs. You should ensure that the seeds come from a reputable vendor with a valid Certificate of Analysis and continuously high germination rates. If you intend to grow hemp for CBD, you must buy feminized hemp seeds.

When preparing the seedbed for your cultivation, seedlings should be well-spaced to allow room for the plants to develop to full size. If you are growing hemp for fiber or seed, row spacing may vary from 6-7 inches to 20-25 inches. Other cultivation steps you should consider include:

  • Lighting: Hemp plants need at least 12 hours of sunlight per day. If you are growing hemp indoors, you must use artificial lighting. The type of lighting you use will depend on the size of your grow area and your budget
  • Soil Temperature: While hemp plants can adapt to a wide range of temperatures, extreme temperatures can stress the plant and affect its growth. Hence, the following temperature ranges are recommended for the different growth phases:
  • Germination Phase: The ideal soil temperature range is between 60°F to 70°F. The seeds will not grow well if the soil temperature is below 50°F or above 86°F
  • Vegetative Phase: The ideal soil temperature range is between 68°F to 77°F
  • Flowering Phase: The ideal soil temperature range is between 64°F to 72°F
  • Irrigation: Hemp plants need to be watered regularly. The amount of water required varies depending on the climate and soil type. In general, hemp plants should be watered when the top inch of soil is dry
  • Pesticide Use: You should consider using pesticides preventively before pests become a problem. Pesticides can stop pest infestation and improve crop yields. You should only use recommended pesticides when cultivating hemp in Washington. A list of approved pesticides in the state is available on the Pesticide Information Center Online (PICOL) Database of Washington State University. To access the list from the database:
  • Select "Searches" on the left side of the home page, then select "Advanced"
  • In the "Add Search Term" box in the "Build Your Search" section, use the drop-down to select "Crop". Type Hemp in the blank box to the right of the "Contains" box
  • Select "Submit Search". A list of pesticide products allowed for use on hemp will be populated on the next screen. The product label will be displayed by clicking the "WA" hyperlink under the Labels header

If you are new to farming and want to know more about hemp farming in Washington, you may learn more through the Cultivating Success program offered by Washington State University (WSU). The program teaches general agricultural and agronomic techniques. While the program is not specific to industrial hemp cultivation, it teaches general agricultural topics.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Washington?

Hemp flower is legal in Washington and can be purchased from online CBD retailers, physical CBD dispensaries, and local stores. Due to hemp's classification as a legal substance, you can also ship hemp flower across state lines into Washington.

Hemp vs. THC

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is a chemical found in the cannabis sativa plant (hemp and marijuana, but more readily available in marijuana plants). Below are three significant distinctions between THC and hemp:

  • Chemical Properties: THC is a psychoactive chemical responsible for the "high" experienced while using marijuana. It binds to brain and nervous system receptors, causing various effects on mood, cognition, and perception. Hemp is a plant with low THC levels (0.3% or less) and is non-psychotropic. It instead includes a high concentration of cannabidiol (CBD), which has potential health advantages but does not cause a "high"
  • Legal Status: THC is banned under federal law, which means it is unlawful to grow, produce, distribute, or use it for any reason other than permitted research. Hemp was federally legalized in 2018 as part of the Farm Bill, which removed it from the list of banned narcotics. As a result, hemp-derived products with less than 0.3% THC are federally legal
  • Uses: THC is predominantly used for its euphoric properties and is present in recreational and therapeutic marijuana products. In contrast, hemp is used for its industrial and nutritional benefits

Note that hemp-derived THC products are legal in Washington State, provided their THC contents do not exceed 0.3%.

Hemp vs. CBD

Hemp is a cannabis sativa plant type cultivated with low amounts of THC (0.3% or less) and high levels of other valuable chemicals such as CBD. CBD is a cannabinoid present in both hemp and marijuana plants and is used for therapeutic purposes. CBD, unlike THC, does not provide a psychotropic "high".

Regarding CBD product legality, hemp-derived CBD is legal at the federal level, according to the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp-derived CBD products with lower than 0.3% THC are legal in Washington.

Hemp Applications

Other than nutritional and medical benefits, some of the products that can be made using hemp include:

  • Textiles and fabrics
  • Yarns
  • Carpeting
  • Paper
  • Insulation and construction materials
  • Animal bedding
  • Body care products
  • Industrial oils, including lubricants
  • Cosmetics
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