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.
Can you buy cannabis seeds?
Although an increasing number of states are relaxing restrictions on growing cannabis at home, Washington is not one of them, as of press time.
While a bill that would allow adults 21 years and older to grow recreational-use cannabis at home has been introduced in the Washington state Legislature, currently the only legal exception for home growing is medical. If you have a Washington medical marijuana card, you can grow a small number of plants without registering, and up to 15 if registered.
If that’s the case, and you’re ready to start planting, where can you find seeds?
The short answer? It’s complicated. Even if you live in California, where it is legal for adults to grow cannabis at home, and you purchase seeds from a California-based seed bank, your package can still be confiscated if mailed.
In fact, you could get in more trouble for buying seeds from within the U.S. than from overseas, which is why the majority of reputable seed banks are in Europe.
How to buy seeds
Even though the United States is one of the world’s most progressive countries in terms of cannabis legalization, the herb remains federally illegal. For this reason, it might be best to get your seeds from a friend or buy directly from a licensed shop. However, in these cases, you’ll have limited options that may not be suited to how and what type of cannabis you want to grow.
For more variety you can buy seeds online, although there are risks. Consider having them shipped to a state where growing marijuana at home is legal. That way, if your package gets intercepted, it’s unlikely you will face legal consequences. But you may still face legal jeopardy if you have to cross state lines to bring them home.
You should also make your purchase from a reputable seed bank capable of shipping to numerous states that understands the need for discretion. If the seeds are confiscated, most firms will either send a new package for free or refund your money.
Where to buy seeds
One of the more trustworthy sellers in the United States is I Love Growing Marijuana. Its website features information about growing, what types of seeds you’ll need and more. The website and store are run by Robert Bergman, an expert cultivator, and provides free shipping to customers in the United States and Europe.
Other online marijuana seed sellers in the U.S. may use incorrect labels when shipping, with terms like “luxury bird food” or “fishing bait additives.” Stores also may sell seeds as “collector items” or “additives.”
Another site worth exploring is the Royal Seed Bank from Canada. This site breaks everything down by the legality of each U.S. state and provides a variety of options.
Since most seed banks that offer cannabis seeds source them from seed banks in European countries, you may want to search there too.
Cannabis seeds are not illegal in the European Union, and technically it’s not illegal to purchase seeds from another country. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a 1962 framework for marijuana legalization, is an international treaty signed by 180 countries stating that marijuana is classified as an illegal substance, but it says nothing about seeds.
Therefore, since international law takes precedence over a country’s own laws, cannabis seeds are technically legal in all 180 countries. However, when a product enters a European country, it becomes subject to that nation’s laws, which means it’s not easy to purchase seeds. For example, here is a look at cannabis seed laws in a few major European nations:
Germany: Seeds do not fall under the German Narcotics Act, so they are technically legal to purchase. Germany has prohibited the sale of cannabis seeds nationwide, but since the country is subject to the EU’s free movement of goods, having seeds sent to Germany is fine.
United Kingdom: At present, the UK allows for the purchase, sale, or trade of cannabis seeds whether you purchase them domestically or from another European nation.
Netherlands: Despite the nation’s relaxed attitude towards marijuana, it is still illegal to possess or purchase. However, you should have no issue purchasing cannabis seeds from a Dutch-based seed company.
Spain: Spain has a similarly lenient policy as the UK. Residents can buy and sell seeds if they are for personal use in private areas.
What to buy
There are three distinct types of cannabis seeds.
Regular seeds come from one female and one male parent and there’s a 50/50 chance that the plant will be the feminized version that will produce buds. However, you have no control of the plant’s gender and there’s always a chance you’ll waste weeks growing, only to learn a male plant will not yield what you’re seeking.
Feminized seeds have no male chromosomes and are guaranteed to provide resinous bud.
Autoflowering seeds are your best option if you want to grow indoors. These seeds have genetics which evolved in northern Eurasia, which makes them strong and sturdy. They are also mixed with cannabis ruderalis, a plant known for its ability to grow in harsh weather conditions.
One of the biggest advantages of autoflowering seeds is their ability to produce a minimum of two outdoor crops. When you grow them indoors, however, you can produce four or five crops a year, and certain strains can become mature in as little as 10 weeks. They are heavily resistant to mold and pests and produce a higher yield when exposed to powerful light sources.
You can learn more about the different types of seeds, strains, and how best to grow them on most seed bank websites along with any applicable local laws. Do your research, and keep in mind how, where, what and when you want to grow before making a purchase.
Always buy from a reputable seed bank. The last thing you want is to buy what you think are feminized seeds, only to discover that they are regular seeds only capable of producing male plants.
How much you will pay for seeds depends on the strain you buy. Typically, a pack of 10-12 seeds can be as low as $40 but expect to pay up to $500 for high-end strains.
You can purchase seeds within most states where growing cannabis is legal, but the issue is still complicated by the fact that the plant is federally illegal.
In the United States, cannabis seeds cannot cross state lines. Though rare, transporting the products across state lines could result in federal charges. This is true even if you are purchasing cannabis seeds in a state that authorizes it and are entering a state that also authorizes it.
For that reason, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney well-versed in cannabis law to make sure you are protected when buying seeds.
Kate A. Miner has a degree in visual anthropology, and has worked in marketing and advertising for many years. She writes, takes photos and teaches yoga.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages community forums series — which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper — by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.