Under the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, the USPS can ship certain products, as long as specified conditions are met. Cali bud could end up on the East Coast easier than you think, according to a new official determination from the DEA. Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) acknowledged that cannabis seeds are in fact legal products under provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill as
U.S. Postal Service: Yes, Hemp and Hemp-Based Products Can Be Shipped by Mail
Under the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills, the USPS can ship certain products, as long as specified conditions are met.
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) updated its “Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail” policy June 6 to provide new mailing standards for products derived from cannabis and industrial hemp.
According to its website, the USPS has received numerous inquiries from both businesses and consumers looking to use its services to transport CBD products. In its recent bulletin, the USPS clarified that the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorized states to implement hemp cultivation programs, as well as the 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp, allow the USPS to ship some products derived from industrial hemp, under specific conditions.
A business that wishes to ship those products must have a license from its state’s Department of Agriculture to produce industrial hemp, according to USPS policy, and the THC concentration of any product mailed must not exceed 0.3 percent. Once the 2018 Farm Bill is fully implemented and states begin to regulate hemp and hemp-derived products, the USPS will further amend its policy on the transport of hemp and hemp-based products, according to the bulletin.
Those businesses are responsible for complying with all laws and regulations that govern mailability, the USPS said. While they are not required to present documentation proving state licensure and THC content at the time of mailing, this documentation may be requested should there be doubt about the item’s mailability or the addressee’s ability to legally receive it.
High Falls Hemp, a New York-based hemp-derived product manufacturer, has been shipping with the USPS for over a year, according to Managing Director Sheila Doyle. The company only ran into an issue once, Doyle said, when a particular post office branch had a misunderstanding of hemp products.
“They questioned ‘how we knew it would not blow up on an airplane,’ so clearly they were assuming that all hemp-CBD products were vapes,” Doyle said. “This is not the case as we do not sell vapes. They also told us it needed to be packed in a special way, so at the time it was a little confusing.”
High Falls Hemp employees now carry the required documents to show the USPS that the company’s products are compliant, should a question arise, Doyle said. “Our products also have QR codes on them that lead to a web page containing the third-party lab reports on each product. That will also make it easier to show anyone what is in the product and the proper low-level of THC.”
Recently, High Falls Hemp shipped hemp seeds internationally, and although other carriers declined the shipments, the USPS accepted them after reviewing the required documentation.
“It is a big deal for the industry to be able to ship via USPS, and I also think it is a great move for the USPS to get in on the ground floor by accepting this industry,” Doyle said.
The USPS’s new guidelines for hemp and hemp-derived products are part of a larger industry trend that has been evolving over the past couple of months with the normalization of the market, according to Lex Pelger, director of education at CV Sciences, a producer of cannabis-based products.
“I think this is a big deal,” Pelger told Cannabis Business Times. “That’s really important, to have these kinds of clarifications, to have the USPS say, ‘This is completely legal.’ It does matter, and you see other agencies following suit in their various departments.”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), for example, updated its policy last month to allow travelers to bring certain CBD products on flights.
“I think that the USPS stepping up to clearly lay out their policy was wise given the movement towards the acceptance and legalization of hemp in the U.S. post 2018 Farm Bill,” said Jason Mitchell, co-founder and president of Hemp Fusion, a provider of hemp-based products. “This move also provides additional support for this movement and thus helps to create a sense of acceptance by other organizations.”
Now that the USPS has updated its hemp and CBD policies, Pelger sees it as positive for not only hemp- and CBD-related businesses, but also shipping businesses, like the USPS, which will now have more packages to send around the country.
“It might be a drop in the bucket compared to all the packages shipped in the United States, but it’s one more category of product that’s going to be shipped a lot more,” Pelger said.
Although CV Sciences ships its products through UPS, Pelger has previously worked at companies that used the USPS, and he has never seen any major issues arise with either of these major carriers when transporting hemp and hemp-derived products.
“Because they’re such a normalized product and they just simply look like another plant extract, in general, it doesn’t seem like it’s raising red flags,” he said. “Often, I would suspect people don’t even know or care what’s in there. It doesn’t seem like they’re looking for it.”
Even so, businesses and consumers have historically been fearful of shipping these products through the mail due to the regulatory gray area, Pelger said. Now that the USPS has clarified its policy to definitively allow the shipment of these products, it will allow industry stakeholders to breathe a sigh of relief.
“When I’m out on the road, I hear a lot of elderly folks, especially, being worried about this being shipped to their house, being worried about legality, being worried about their insurance companies,” Pelger said. “To have a statement like this to let them rest easy … means there are going to be a lot more grandmothers or parents around the country who are finally going to feel safe enough to buy a hemp extract online and have it shipped to their house. And that could be a really important thing for their health.”
For companies shipping hemp and hemp-based products, it should be business as usual, Pelger said, although businesses should read the USPS’s guidelines very carefully and be aware of some kinks that need to be worked out.
“They’re not simple,” he said. “It involves three different prongs: a self-certification statement, a license issued by that state’s Department of Agriculture, and then saying that [the hemp or hemp-derived product contains] less than 0.3-percent THC. What the USPS actually said is kind of confusing and doesn’t quite make sense with how some of the industry works because for some companies, like ours, we don’t have a license from any local department of agriculture because none of our hemp is grown in the United States. We’re using only Dutch hemp, and so we don’t need to deal with the USDA for growing hemp. So, we wouldn’t have a license from them, and it’s something that’s required.”
Companies in the space should also be mindful of local authorities who may not align with the USPS policy, or the USDA’s recent memo clarifying that hemp can be legally transported across state lines.
“Even though they’re saying this is true, there are still shipments being seized in the country, like in Idaho, for perfectly legal hemp shipments going through,” Pelger said. “The local cops don’t like it, and even though it’s legal under the federal law, it’s months and months of back and forth to try to get back their plants.”
Indeed, the case of Denis Palamarchuk, who was transporting hemp through Idaho on his way from one licensed company to another earlier this year when police officers asserted he was carrying illegal marijuana through the state, demonstrates federal and state tension that law enforcement authorities and agricultural regulators have been wrestling since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Even so, Pelger said the USPS memo offers some much-needed clarity that can be amended as more guidelines are handed down from other applicable federal agencies. “This new memo is a great step in the right direction, but as it says on the issuing statement, this is a memo subject to change. So, they’re still working out what exactly this needs to look like, but you can tell that they’re working hard to try to do their best to be on the right side of the 2018 Farm Bill and where all these laws are moving.”
Weed seeds may be legal to ship across the US, DEA says
Cannabis commercial and home growers alike may be able to get their seeds from all over the country now, and not have to worry about breaking federal law. Before, because of federal illegality, cannabis seeds have been restricted to the state in which they were produced, so a strain bred and grown in one state, legally, could not go beyond that state’s boundaries.
A recent legal clarification by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could mean that the seeds of cannabis strains popular in one part of the country could legally be shipped to another part of the country, because the DEA considers all forms of cannabis seeds to be federally legal hemp.
That means strains popular in mature markets like Washington, Oregon, and California could make their way to legal markets on the East Coast in Massachusetts and Maine, and soon-to-open markets like New Jersey and New York.
Marijuana Moment reporter Kyle Jaeger recently unearthed a letter from DEA officials that clarifies the definition of cannabis seeds, clones, and tissue cultures, which could open up a whole range of possibilities for cannabis growers, and could spread a diversity of strains across legal markets all over the country, opening up the gene pool and leading to new trends and tastes in weed.
Are weed seeds illegal?
Right now, cannabis strains are somewhat isolated in the regions they are bred and created, as they can’t be transported beyond state lines. For example, even though recreational weed is legal at the state level in both California and Oregon, moving a plant from one of those states to the other is illegal at the federal level. This forces cannabis growers and breeders to operate within the confines of a specific state.
That’s not to say that a strain bred in California won’t end up in Oregon—it happens all the time, but it is technically illegal, according to federal law.
Many cannabis breeders and seed banks sell seeds throughout the US, but they operate in a legal gray area. Typically, seed producers say their seeds are sold for “novelty” or “souvenir” purposes, giving them a loophole to skirt the law.
If cannabis seeds are found in the mail, they could be seized and the sender or receiver arrested, however, the fact of the matter is that seeds are very difficult to detect. Cannabis seeds are usually less than a ¼” in diameter and don’t smell like weed. A packet of 10 seeds is about the size of four quarters stacked.
But all that might have changed in 2018 without anyone knowing.
Defining ‘source’ vs. ‘material’
In 2018, Congress passed a farm bill that legalized hemp in the US. It defined “hemp” as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC. This allows hemp to be grown and used for industrial purposes—for creating textiles and materials. The 2018 bill also opened up hemp production for the creation of cannabinoids other than delta-9 THC, such as CBD, delta-8, and others.
Because CBD and delta-8 products are usually extracted from hemp plants, that is, cannabis plants containing less than 0.3% THC, they can be found in states that don’t have legal, recreational cannabis.
In November, Shane Pennington, counsel at Vicente Sederberg LLP in New York, wrote to DEA officials asking for clarification of the definition of a cannabis seed, clone, and tissue culture.
Cannabis seeds have always been deemed illegal because they come from plants that are high in THC. The source of the seeds is above 0.3% THC, and therefore anything that comes from those plants, such as seeds, has also been considered illegal cannabis.
Pennington argued that the source of the material doesn’t determine legality, but the material itself—meaning that because a cannabis seed itself contains less than 0.3% THC, it should be classified as hemp. If seeds are hemp, they are not a controlled substance—and are therefore federally legal.
“When it comes to determining whether a particular cannabis-related substance is federally legal ‘hemp’ or schedule I “marihuana,” it is the substance itself that matters—not its source,” Pennington wrote in a blog post.
Exotic Genetix Mike, founder of cannabis producer Exotic Genetix, said the DEA’s ruling “Is what we’ve always kind of practiced. [Seeds contain] less than 0.3% THC—they’re not a controlled substance.”
Mike welcomed the news: “It’s been clarified. Not just what we do is legal, but the money we make for doing it is also legal and not an illegal enterprise.”
What implications does this have for the weed industry?
If the DEA and federal government allow seeds to cross state lines, adults could grow and consume seeds and strains from all over the country in their own state. Certain strains would no longer be confined to a specific region, but could be enjoyed all across the nation.
“It’ll spark innovation, if people can bring it above ground, it can be regulated,” said Pennington in an interview with Leafly.
Regulation can bring more investment, a bigger industry, and more acceptance of the plant.
Breaking down transportation barriers across states would also open up the cannabis gene pool, giving breeders a bigger diversity of strains to work with. The number and diversity of new strains would likely increase, tapping into new consumer trends and flavors.
More strains also means that certain strains could be pinpointed and bred specifically for certain effects, whether for medical or recreational purposes.
But according to Pennington, perhaps the biggest implication is that “This sends a signal, clearly, to state legislators, state regulators, and to groups that lobby those folks… the federal law is more flexible than you assumed.”
States take their cue from the DEA when creating their own drug laws, so seeing the agency relax its stance on shipping cannabis genetics could cause states to follow suit, breaking down protectionist state laws.
This could also open up more accurate research on the plant, according to Pennington. For decades, cannabis research was limited to The University of Mississippi, which grew weed with a low potency, around 8% THC. However, most dispensaries sell cannabis with a THC percentage around 20%. Being able to ship genetics across the country would allow for more robust research into the plant, using strains that mirror what adults are actually buying in stores and consuming.
How binding is the DEA letter?
The DEA calls the letter an “official determination,” but whether or not they are legally bound to this position is a bit hazy.
“That to me sure seems like something the agency would either be bound to going forward or at least be very hesitant to deviate from in any kind of enforcement context,” said Pennington.
For now, the DEA’s acknowledgment that cannabis seeds, clones, and tissue cultures are not controlled substances isn’t law, but it is a big step forward in relaxing restrictions on cannabis.
Experts Warn Against Mailing Cannabis In Light of Recent DEA Ruling
While a recent DEA letter appeared to suggest that cannabis material containing less than 0.3% THC is federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, legal experts still caution against sending seeds, clones, and other byproducts by mail.
Full story after the jump.
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Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) acknowledged that cannabis seeds are in fact legal products under provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill as long as they contain less than the 0.3% THC legal threshold qualifying them as hemp. The attorney who sent the letter that sparked the review, Shane Pennington, who serves as counsel in Vicente Sederberg’s New York office, cautioned though that not much will change for the industry in the short term just because of the DEA’s letter.
“To everybody out there who is saying, ‘This is one simple trick to mail marijuana,’ please, please hear me – it is not. This is not what this is. Before you do anything consult your attorney – I would say consult your attorney and read the letter, because if the letter doesn’t say ‘You can mail it,’ I would not assume you can. I just want to be very clear about that.” – Pennington to Ganjapreneur
Pennington, who tries cannabis cases in federal court, sent the letter because it was obvious to him that the “governing principle” under the Farm Bill for distinguishing legal hemp from illegal cannabis under federal law was the 0.3% THC threshold, rather than the so-called “source rule” which dictates that anything derived from an illegal source, regardless of THC content, is illegal.
Under the source rule, seeds and clones sourced from outlawed cannabis are also considered controlled substances under federal law despite THC concentrations falling below the 0.3% threshold outlined in the Farm Bill.
Pennington said that many people in the cannabis industry argued that the source rule was the lay of the land and that the Farm Bill had no effect on the legal status of seeds and clones that could grow into THC-rich plants, prompting Pennington to ask the DEA for an official determination on the status of cannabis seeds.
“Of course, the DEA has been wrong about plenty of stuff,” Pennington said, “I sue them all the time. Nonetheless, they do speak with authority on the law and if I could get an official determination I could at least tell these people, ‘Look, we don’t have to argue anymore.’”
In the letter to Pennington, DEA Chief of the Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section Terrence L. Boos, concludes that “marihuana seed that has a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3[%] on a dry weight basis meets the definition of ‘hemp’ and thus is not controlled” under the Controlled Substances Act – and not just seed, but “tissue culture and any other genetic material” containing less than 0.3% THC.
But, Pennington said, that letter didn’t end all arguments, which he said have evolved into claims that cannabis seeds, clones, and basically anything with less than 0.3% THC could now be mailed, brought across state lines, and shared between states that have legalized cannabis.
Nat Pennington, the founder and CEO of Humboldt Seed Company (and not related to Shane), pointed out that California’s adult-use law is very clear that seeds cannot be transferred in or out of the state regardless of current federal policies. Nat points out that in newly legal states there is often a baked-in “immaculate conception clause” which allows companies and cultivators to start growing for the program but turns a blind eye to exactly where that first batch of seed is sourced from. The DEA letter, in Nat’s view, takes some of the risk out of that first legal grow because the companies are definitely not violating the source rule by simply possessing the seeds, clones, or tissue culture as long as they don’t exceed federal THC limits for controlled substances.
While California’s rules on seeds are very strict, the rules in Oklahoma, another state where Humboldt Seed Company operates, are not.
“You don’t have to prove that they came from within the state’s system,” Nat said in an interview with Ganjapreneur. “And they also don’t keep track or want to regulate what happens to the seeds that are created within the system – they’re treated just like tomato seeds or anything else.”
Oklahoma does require all seeds in the state to be tested for invasive plants and germination rates, Nat said.
“As long as states don’t have a closed loop like California, there is more potential for seed sharing,” he said.
According to Nat, the big deal in the DEA’s response is that it likely opens the window for research and intellectual property and the ability to “follow normal seed laws.”
“There’s an opportunity to really have the states look at it differently – the industry could really benefit a lot from, for example, being able to bring cannabis seeds onto campus for genomic analysis. It’s silly to not be able to utilize that.” – Nat Pennington to Ganjapreneur
While many colleges and universities are offering cannabis-related certificates and degree programs, none of them have offerings that touch the plant (including seeds) because they receive federal funding.
In 2019, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) did release the following guidance about mailing hemp as defined under the farm bill:
“Hemp and hemp-based products, including cannabidiol (CBD) with the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of such hemp (or its derivatives) not exceeding a 0.3 percent limit are permitted to be mailed only when:
- The mailer complies with all applicable federal, state, and local laws (such as the Agricultural Act of 2014 and the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018) pertaining to hemp production, processing, distribution, and sales; and
- The mailer retains records establishing compliance with such laws, including laboratory test results, licenses, or compliance reports, for no less than 2 years after the date of mailing.”
Shane said that the issue of whether cannabis seeds could be mailed likely needs clarification by USPS officials in light of the DEA letter.
“All that this letter says is what DEA thinks the [CSA] means at the time that they wrote that letter with respect to these particular substances,” he explained. “It’s not saying it’s legal to mail stuff under federal law or state law – it’s not saying anything about state law. … This letter doesn’t change California law on this stuff. It doesn’t change was USPS thinks are verboten cannabis products.”
The letter, Shane said, doesn’t legalize interstate commerce of clones, doesn’t change any rules on marketing or advertising, or the positions of any other federal agency.
The real significance, Shane said, is that it offers some clarification for “third-party regulators” such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state regulators, law enforcement agencies, because they “take their cues” from the DEA on controlled substances policy.
“If you read opinions from state courts about trying to draw lines under state law on hemp and marijuana, they will cite DEA regs and DEA guidance,” he said. “The point is that, while it’s not immediate, over time as these regulators and lawmakers realize that DEA’s views are more flexible than they realized, it is entirely reasonable to expect that they will loosen up some of their standards as well.”
Shane explained that what will really determine how quickly and dramatically those standards change is how quickly people use the letter to lobby state lawmakers, regulators, and other agencies.
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