Pennsylvania Hemp Overview

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What Is Hemp?

Hemp is a popular strain of Cannabis sativa, a plant in the Cannabaceae botanical family, that does not contain more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical compound with psychoactive properties. It is also known as industrial hemp and is usually grown for its fiber. Hemp is similar to marijuana, another strain of Cannabis sativa. However, unlike hemp, marijuana plants contain more than 0.3% of THC. Hemp and cannabis plants differ in their physical appearance. Hemp plants are tall (up to 20 feet long) and have slender leaves and few branches concentrated at the top. On the other hand, marijuana leaves are broader, and the plants have more branches at the bottom, giving them a bushy appearance.       

Hemp seeds are small brown seeds with hard oval-shaped outer shells. Unlike the other parts of hemp plants, hemp seeds do not contain THC or cannabidiol (CBD), another active ingredient derived from hemp and marijuana plants. Therefore, they do not produce psychoactive effects when ingested. Hemp seeds are rarely eaten raw because of their hard exteriors. However, they are usually ground into powder to make hemp seed flour used for baking and making beverages. 

When the shells of hemp seeds are removed, they reveal soft greenish kernels known as hemp hearts. Like hemp seeds, hemp hearts do not contain CBD or THC. They are believed to be beneficial for the heart because of their high fatty acid content. Also, hemp hearts are considered to be excellent sources of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, which aid digestion. Hemp milk is a non-dairy drink made from hemp seeds. It is produced by soaking hemp seeds in water and blending them. The blended mixture can be consumed that way or passed through a strainer to yield hemp milk with a smoother texture. Hemp milk is believed to have health benefits because of its vitamin, mineral, protein, and fat content.

Hemp extract is also called ''whole plant'' extract. Hemp extract is a concentration of various parts of hemp plants, including stems, flowers, and leaves. It contains numerous components, including terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, vitamins, plant sterols, essential oils, and cannabinoids. CBD is one of the most abundant cannabinoids contained in hemp extract.   

Hemp oil is a nutty-flavored oil obtained by cold-pressing hemp seeds. In its unrefined state, hemp oil is green-colored, but when refined, it is colorless. Typically, hemp oil does not contain THC, but small amounts of THC may be found in hemp oil if plant matter sticks to the seed surfaces during production. Hemp flower is the unprocessed bud of the hemp plant. When dried, hemp flowers contain the full spectrum of hemp plants' terpenes and cannabinoids. Hemp flower is usually consumed in a smokable form, and it gives a relaxing effect due to its CBD content.                   

Is Hemp Legal in Pennsylvania?

Yes, hemp is legal in Pennsylvania. Hemp was illegal in the United States until February 7, 2014, when the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the 2014 Farm Bill, was signed into federal law. Per Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill, state agriculture departments and higher education institutions could run agricultural pilot programs to research industrial hemp cultivation and marketing. As a result, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the state's first hemp law - Act 92 (the Industrial Hemp Research Act), which was signed into state law in July 2016 by Governor Wolf. The Industrial Hemp Research Act authorized the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to implement the state's hemp agricultural pilot program and issue permits to participating higher education institutions. 

On December 20, 2018, hemp production was legalized in the United States through the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill). The provisions of this Bill re-classified the legal status of hemp on a federal level by removing it from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. As a result, hemp was no longer regarded as a Schedule I controlled substance, and its commercial production was allowed. Section 297B of the 2018 Farm Bill required that states submit their hemp production regulation plans to the United States Secretary of Agriculture in order to have primary regulatory authority over hemp production in their territories. Due to this requirement, the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan was established. In line with the provisions of Pennsylvania's hemp production plan, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) was designated as the agency responsible for administering the state's hemp program. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates hemp production at the federal level.         

The Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to issue two types of permits for hemp cultivation - general permits and research permits. General permits enable individuals and businesses to cultivate hemp plants commercially, while research permits allow higher institutions to grow hemp plants for research purposes. Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan does not permit individuals to cultivate hemp plants for personal use. Hemp general permit holders may process the hemp plants they produce. However, according to Article VIII of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan, persons processing hemp plants obtained from other growers must get processor permits from the PDA.   

Since the 2018 Farm Bill permits hemp production and transportation at a federal level, persons may legally transport hemp plants or products across state lines, provided they do not contain over 0.3% of THC. Nevertheless, Article III of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan stipulates that persons taking hemp plants in bulk out-of-state must meet the requirements of their destination states' hemp program rules. Therefore, they must provide documentation proving compliance with their destination states' hemp laws before purchasing hemp plants in Pennsylvania. Also, according to Article VI of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan, all hemp plants transported into the state in bulk must be properly packaged to prevent their release into the environment. Also, the transporters must maintain documents indicating the origins and destinations of the hemp plants.                 

What Hemp Products are Legal in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan does not prohibit any specific type of hemp product. Therefore, state residents may purchase and use hemp products in various forms, including topicals, oils, cannabinoids, seeds, acids, salts, edibles, and smokables. However, in line with the provisions of the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act, it is illegal to smoke in public spaces such as restaurants, schools, daycare facilities, hospitals, theaters, nightclubs, or sports facilities. Therefore, persons smoking hemp products in Pennsylvania must do so in private spaces. The Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan does not restrict drivers or truckers from smoking hemp products while driving, provided they contain a maximum of 0.3% THC. However, it is illegal for Pennsylvania drivers to have more than one nanogram per milliliter of THC in their blood. 

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan does not permit city or county authorities to restrict hemp production or processing activities within their jurisdictions. Therefore, hemp growers and processors in the state may legally operate in any county, provided they comply with the provisions of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan.   

How to Get a License to Grow or Process Hemp in Pennsylvania

Hemp growers and processors in Pennsylvania must obtain permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) before they can legally operate in the state. In line with the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan, the PDA issues three types of permits for hemp-related activities. They are:

  • Research permits: These permits are issued to higher institutions that study the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp under the Pennsylvania industrial hemp research program  
  • General permits: This type of permit allows individuals or business entities to grow and sell hemp plants commercially  
  • Processor permits: This permit type allows holders to manufacture hemp products from hemp plants and sell them  

An applicant for a general permit under the Pennsylvania hemp production plan must:

  • Submit their fingerprints to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) for criminal history checks
  • Provide an access agreement signed by the owner of the property they intend to use for the commercial hemp cultivation activities (if they are leasing the property)
  • Have a photograph plot map (with the cultivation area marked) of the property to be used for commercial hemp activities
  • Pay a $150 application fee as a check or money order payable to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 

To obtain a general hemp permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), an applicant should complete the Pennsylvania hemp growing and processing permit application/renewal form. Afterward, they should attach the required documents and proof of application fee payment to the completed application form and mail them to the PDA at:

Bureau of Plant Industry Hemp Program

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

2301 North, Cameron Street

Harrisburg, PA 17110       

Alternatively, a prospective hemp general permit holder in Pennsylvania may apply online by creating an account in the bureau of plant industry portal and completing the required application fields. Then, an online applicant should upload electronic copies of the required documents and pay the application fee (by credit card). The PDA provides an application checklist and detailed application instructions for prospective hemp general permit holders in Pennsylvania.   

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

Initial hemp general and processing permits in Pennsylvania cost $150. Nevertheless, this amount is multiplied by the number of cultivation locations an applicant intends to own when calculating their total application fee cost. According to the Pennsylvania hemp production plan, hemp permits issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) expire yearly and require renewal. Hemp permit renewals cost $50. However, this amount is multiplied by the number of cultivation locations approved for applicants to give the total renewal cost.  

How to Grow Hemp in Pennsylvania

Hemp general permit holders in Pennsylvania can only plant certified hemp seeds obtained from seed dealers registered under the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's certified seed program. To cultivate hemp plants in Pennsylvania, a grower with a valid general permit should:

  • Germinate hemp seeds: The grower should soak hemp seeds in water for 8 to 24 hours and plant the pre-soaked seeds in small pots containing thoroughly saturated soil. After planting, a hemp grower should water regularly until the seedlings emerge
  • Transplant hemp seedlings: Hemp seedlings become due for transplanting when the roots protrude from the sides and bottom of the pots. This usually takes place 5 to 6 weeks after planting
  • Water the hemp plants: After transplanting hemp seedlings, a grower should water them regularly. They may apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the growing hemp plants                     

The Pennsylvania hemp production plan does not provide specific regulations regarding permitted pesticides for hemp cultivation. However, any pesticide used on hemp plants in Pennsylvania must comply with the pesticide guidelines of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Also, pesticides used on hemp plants in the state must adhere to Pennsylvania's pesticide program requirements.      

Although hemp plants are similar to cannabis plants, they are grown differently. Hemp seeds are usually grown closely together, while marijuana plants are grown wider apart (about 6 feet apart) to give space for the plants to branch out. According to Article II of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan, hemp pollen can interfere with marijuana plants cultivated for medical purposes. Therefore, hemp plants cannot be grown within three miles of a registered medical marijuana cultivation facility. Also, it is illegal to grow or process hemp plants within 200 feet of residential premises, and hemp plants cannot be grown within 1,000 feet of school properties.            

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania hemp production plan does not restrict state residents from buying and using smokable hemp flowers. However, in line with the Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act, residents may only use smokable hemp flowers in private spaces. Hemp flowers may be purchased online or from local stores such as smoke shops. Pennsylvania's hemp production plan does not limit the number of hemp flowers a person can buy at once. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania hemp production plan allows hemp permit holders to ship hemp flowers and other hemp plant parts into the state. Hemp flowers brought into the state must meet the sampling and testing requirements outlined in Article IV of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan.  

Hemp vs THC

Hemp is not the same as THC. Hemp (industrial hemp) is a plant of the Cannabaceae botanical family that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as one of its chemical components. THC is a cannabinoid molecule found in hemp and cannabis plants. It is the primary psychoactive molecule in hemp and cannabis plants. Typically, the THC concentration of hemp plants is lower than that of cannabis plants. Per the provisions of the Pennsylvania State Hemp Plan, the sale of hemp-derived THC products in the state is legal, provided the products do not contain more than 0.3% of THC.  

Hemp vs CBD

Hemp is different from CBD. CBD (cannabidiol) is an active chemical compound in hemp and cannabis plants. It does not cause a ''high'' like THC, and hemp plants typically contain higher amounts of CBD than cannabis plants. Therefore, CBD is usually obtained from hemp plants. The provisions of Pennsylvania's hemp production plan make it legal to sell hemp-derived CBD products in the state. There is no defined CBD limit in Pennsylvania. Therefore, state residents may purchase hemp-derived products with any CBD concentration.      

Hemp Applications

Hemp is widely used in various industries. Some of the applications of hemp are:  

  • Construction: Hemp fibers are lightweight, breathable, and mold resistant, making them valuable in the construction industry. The fibers can be combined with sand and calcium lime to manufacture hemp-based insulating plaster for flooring, ceilings, and internal walls of buildings. Also, hemp ropes woven in various diameters can be used in bridge construction and for installing frames in building openings. Furthermore, hemp-based bioplastics can be used to manufacture plumbing pipes instead of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Dry hemp fibers can be pressed into tight wood and used as alternatives to regular wood frames for flooring, ceiling, and wall paneling       
  • Automotive industry: Hemp fiber can be mixed with flax, kenaf, and fiberglass to manufacture car composite panels. Furthermore, hemp seed oils and stalks can be used to produce biofuels for powering diesel engines, and hemp oils can be used as car lubricants. Hemp biofuels are safer than traditional diesel fuels because they are less toxic   
  • Paper: Hemp fibers are used to make paper for manufacturing banknotes and cigarettes. Paper made from hemp pulp is up to five times stronger than those manufactured from wood pulp. Also, unlike trees that take decades to mature, hemp plants can yield mature stalks for paper making within 3 to 4 months, significantly increasing the rate at which paper can be produced 
  • Human food ingredients: Hemp seeds may be ground into hemp meals, ingested raw, or made into slurry for beverages or pastries. Hemp milk and cheese are often used as alternatives to dairy products for people with food allergies. Also, hemp oil pressed from seeds can be used in cooking 
  • Animal feed and bedding: Hemp oil, seed, and fiber can be used to manufacture animal feed. The high fiber, protein, and fat content of hemp meal make it a potential substitute for soybean meal in animal diets. Also, hemp shives can be used for animal bedding    
  • Textile and jewelry: Hemp fibers are more durable than cotton. They are usually woven to make clothes, shoes, and upholstery fabric. Also, hemp twines can be knotted to make jewelry such as rings, watches, bracelets, anklets, and necklaces
Pennsylvania Hemp Overview