US vs Canada: Hemp Cultivation and Regulation
Which side of the border do you stand on when it comes to hemp laws?
As a Canadian hemp food and CBD producer, with a clientele on both sides of the border, there are plenty of rules and regulations to navigate. The discussion is ongoing as the industry and regulations evolve - this is what we know right now.
As you'll come to see in this article - there are plenty of differences on either side of the border - but let's start on common ground. Both countries have similar licensing structures with separate licenses for cultivation, processing, and other activities. Like Canada, many US states restrict which varieties of hemp can be cultivated while hemp foods can be traded across the border without a license as long as the seeds are not viable. Both countries are also working towards growing hemp for other sectors beyond food and fractions - benefitting from cross-border co-operation to educate consumers, drive demand, and build infrastructure to support more sustainable hemp-based products like hempcrete, textiles, plastics, and more.
Selling Hemp – Canada vs US?
Hemp’s multi-use capabilities and sustainable qualities are consistent among Canada and the US, with different challenges relating to climate, soil type, and seasonal variations. The big differences between each nation include regulation, end-use, and the definition of “hemp” itself. Hemp treatment in Canada has consistent federal regulations throughout production to sale while the US has a variety of not-so-consistent guidelines for each state.
Hemp has countless uses, commonly used for nutrition, fibre, and extracted plant oils. These extracted plant oils contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and additional compounds. The extracted oil, predominantly CBD oil, is the most contentious product that hemp provides. The guidelines associated with extracted oils, commonly referred to as “fractions”, are what vary among different countries. For instance, Canada’s extracted oils are highly regulated by Health Canada while the US remains largely unregulated.
Hold the THC
The definition of hemp itself differs too – well kind of. Canada defines Hemp as “a cannabis plant and plant parts with a THC content of 0.3% or less in the leaves and flowering heads”. Meanwhile, each US state defines “Hemp” differently. Some states require the THC limit to be 0.3% total THC limit, others allow 0.3% delta-9-THC.
Who's Growing What?
Hemp grown for food and fibre in Canada has been legal since 1998, while in the US, hemp production has only been legalized since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. As a result, Canada has had a 20-year headstart in hemp food production - while the US has gone all-in on hemp grown for CBD since 2018.
Canada defines "industrial hemp" as cannabis varieties that contain less than 0.3% THC in the flowering heads and leaves. Canadian farmers can only grow hemp varietals from an approved list of cultivars, which is updated annually by Health Canada. Traditionally, this has left Canadian growers at a disadvantage when competing with US jurisdictions having higher CBD cultivars. However, this is evolving.
As a result, a major part of the annual hemp volume produced in Canada is utilized for the production of hemp oils, hulled hemp seeds, hemp protein powders, and hemp-derived cannabidiol. With the United States acting as the largest export market for Canada’s hemp foods.
Meanwhile - in 2019 alone, US farmers planted an estimated 288,000 acres of industrial hemp with about 87% used for CBD processing in 2019.
Today, we see both countries and specific hemp growing regions pivoting, retracting or scaling up to meet shifting consumer demand from domestic and international markets.
Here at Blue Sky, we are champions of whole plant utilization using cultivars specifically developed for this purpose. By using the whole hemp plant for food, fibre, and fractions, we're able to get more value out of every planted acre and are able to compete on costs on all fronts, while adhering to Canada's stricter regulations.
Since 2018’s US Federal Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation in the US it has opened doors for growers, LPs, and end-users. Each state operates under their department of agriculture and is reviewed and approved by the USDA.
One area where the US has tighter hemp regulations is on who can grow it. Most US states require hemp growers to pass criminal background checks which are not required in Canada.
Each state’s department of agriculture regulates hemp cultivation - all differing on regulation, end-uses, and even the definition of “hemp”.
New York and Colorado are examples of states that use <.3% of Delta-9 THC as opposed to “total THC”. Differing from Kentucky who defines Industrial hemp as it is outlined in 7 U.S.C sec. 5940 and follow it directly as it may be amended.
Despite the inconsistencies in regulation, the marketing of CBD is largely unregulated in most states. It is completely legal to sell CBD products today without any specific CBD-related license. This has led to an extremely dynamic market with exciting new applications and innovative brands coming to market. It has also lead to a 'wild west' approach with a vast array of products with varying degrees of quality, potency, and efficacy.
Meanwhile in Canada...
In Canada, though highly regulated, the rules are consistent and operate in accordance with The Cannabis Act. Growing industrial hemp in Canada became legal in 1998. Two decades later producers are still faced with permissible challenges. But, because of the coherent (if cumbersome) regulatory standards, Canada has a wider range of export prospects than the US as they are in closer alignment to international standards.
Currently, all cannabis products in Canada, regardless of THC or CBD levels, must be sold through provincially regulated, legal cannabis dispensaries or through medical cannabis channels. Branding is scrupulously curtailed. Packaging allows for a logo, solid colour, THC / CBD ratio + big yellow warning label. Any health claims or brand messaging are strictly prohibited.
And while this extreme regulation has made it hard to build brands and innovate - from a global perspective, these standards and coherent federal regulations are consistent with European requirements - making Canadian hemp products better suited for export.
What's more, The Canadian Health Food Association and Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance are pushing for low THC hemp and CBD hemp to be regulated under natural health product regulations, instead of under the Cannabis Act.
Should (when) this change take place, Canadian CBD products would fall under the same regulatory regime as food and beverages resulting in an increase in cross-border trade, cooperation, and growth in the industry for both countries.
As demand for hemp products continues to grow, Canada is poised to be a major player in the global market. Second to only China in hectares farmed for hemp food production, Canadian hemp is globally regarded as the leader in quality. In addition, our consistent regulatory standards are comparable with international standards offering huge opportunities for trade with other countries that have legalized CBD like in Germany, the UK, or Australia.
The US currently faces hurdles when trying to compete globally in CBD until the FDA properly regulates the industry to GMP standards for pharmaceuticals. Luckily, US hemp growers still have lots of opportunities to trade hemp seed, oil, and fibre internationally and enjoy a hefty domestic market for CBD.
For those looking at hemp production on either side of the border, we can help navigate these complex regulations so that your product can find its way into markets worldwide.