Rhode Island Hemp Overview

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What Is Hemp?

Hemp, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), is a type of Cannabis sativa plant with not more than 0.3% of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry weight basis. Hemp and marijuana have similar looks and smells the same way, which makes it difficult to differentiate them. While the similar appearance can be attributed to their origin (Cannabis sativa), the similar smell is due to the naturally-occurring terpenes found in both plants.

One major difference between hemp and marijuana is their THC composition, which produces intoxicating effects. Hemp products contain low levels of THC, specifically below 0.3%, as required by the 2018 Farm Bill. Another way to differentiate between hemp and marijuana plants is through their physical appearance. In contrast to the shorter and bushier weed plants, hemp plants are usually tall and slim. Furthermore, marijuana plants yield more flowers in thick groups as opposed to hemp plants' sparser blossoms.

Industrial hemp and CBD hemp are the two main divisions of the hemp market today. CBD hemp is produced for its nutrient-rich, fragrant flowers that are used to make extracts, topicals, and consumables, while industrial hemp uses hemp fiber and root to make textiles, plastics, and hempcrete. Industrial hemp was the only variety of hemp that was well-known before the development of the CBD market. Here are three major parts of hemp and their uses:

  • Hemp Fiber: The chemical composition of hemp fiber is identical to that of hardwood, with approximately 21% lignin, 18% hemicelluloses, and 40% cellulose. The manufacturing industry uses hemp fiber for a variety of products, such as paper, fabrics, biodegradable polymers, healthy foods, and fuel. Its fiber is more durable than linen and jute. Additionally, hemp fiber is good for producing cables, carpets, cotton flannel, canvas, ship cordage, and ropes
  • Hemp Seed: The uses of hemp seeds are limitless. Basically, they serve as a means of seeding for other hemp plants and additives to food ingredients. According to a study, hemp seed’s high nutritive traits comprise more than 20% lipids, 25% proteins, and 20% carbohydrates. When the shell is removed, hemp seed can be consumed directly. The seeds are frequently ground up and used in nutritious food items for humans and animals. Another area that scientists are researching is the production of hemp fuel from the seed. Hemp seed is frequently used to make bread, milk, and dairy products
  • Hemp Flower: According to a 2012 research study, hemp flower contains more than 100 distinct substances, including CBD (cannabidiol) and THC. Antioxidant properties of cannabinoids in hemp flowers can treat disorders caused by oxidative stress according to researchers. Examples of the conditions include neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. The plant's leaves and blossoms are steam-distilled to produce hemp essential oils. Additionally, raw hemp flowers serve as a nutritional source. They contain potent antioxidants like flavonoids that slow down the aging process of the skin. The leaves are also a good source of Omega 3 and 6 essential fats and digestible globular proteins

Hemp can be processed into different derivatives and products in Rhode Island. For instance, processing hemp seed alone can produce hemp milk, hemp heart, and hemp oil. Also known as hemp seed milk, hemp milk is made by soaking and grinding hemp seeds in water. The resulting product is similar to milk in texture, color, and flavor. Due to the nutrients found in hemp seed, health practitioners often recommend hemp milk for the heart, brain, and skin. Hemp heart is the soft inner part seen after shelling hemp seed. Hemp hearts can be eaten raw, blended with smoothies, or sprinkled on salads. Similar to the way olive oil is made from olives, hemp oil is extracted through cold-pressing from hemp seeds. Hemp seed oil does not contain CBD, but it is useful for skin improvement or food supplements. Unlike hemp oil, hemp extract (or CBD oil) is extracted from hemp plants, and it contains medicinal compounds such as CBD, flavonoids, and terpenes. Hemp extract is used in topical pain-relieving creams and edibles.

Is Hemp Legal in Rhode Island?

Yes, hemp is legal in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Hemp Growth Act of 2016, which legalized hemp farming in the state, was enacted to conform to the U.S. 2014 Farm Bill. Also regarded as the United States Agricultural Act of 2014, the bill permitted hemp cultivation according to the guidelines created by each state program. Hemp production, according to the 2014 Farm Bill, should only be carried out for agricultural and academic research, provided the state allows it. The 2014 Farm Act remained effective until 2018, when the U.S. President signed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill).

The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the controlled substances list. It redefined marijuana as any cannabis plant containing more than 0.3% THC. This means that hemp and other cannabis products containing trace amounts (<0.3% of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)) are no longer illegal to purchase or consume. Like the previous Act in 2014, states, including Rhode Island, can create their hemp regulations and programs. Carrying hemp and other low-level THC products across state lines is also legal under the 2018 Farm Act.

In 2019, Rhode Island passed House Bill 5151 (the Hemp Growth Act) to legalize hemp use and comply with federal law. The legislation created the RI Industrial Hemp Program, aimed at providing licenses for hemp farmers, retailers, and distributors throughout the state. Individuals approved through the program can sell CBD products, including hemp-derived consumables containing very low amounts of THC. Compared to several jurisdictions with stricter regulations, the state program allows almost all forms of CBD products. Consumables such as CBD edibles, drinks, oils, extracts, and other products are all legal in Rhode Island. HB 5151 also allowed the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation to create guidelines for hemp growers, handlers, retailers, and distributors. Residents of Rhode Island are permitted to transport CBD or industrial hemp across state boundaries since hemp usage and possession are allowed in the U.S.

What Hemp Products are Legal in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, residents can buy and use all hemp products provided they contain no more than 0.3% THC on the dry weight. Possession of cannabis-derived CBD products is illegal even if the THC level is below 0.3%. Rhode Island also prohibits the use and purchase of tetrahydrocannabinol isomers like Delta 8 and Delta 10 that are meant for consumption. Hemp products and derivatives legal in Rhode Island include Delta-9 THC edibles and other similar food additives that contain below 0.3% THC. Hemp seed, CBD oil, fiber, and other non-consumable hemp products often used in textile or pharmaceutical industries are legal in Rhode Island.

Smoking dry hemp on private properties is legal. Although there are no clear laws on smoking hemp in public, it is advisable to avoid public smoking. Local law enforcement often find it difficult to differentiate between hemp and marijuana due to their similar appearance. As such, persons found smoking hemp in public or while driving may be arrested.

Can A Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Rhode Island?

No. Cities and counties in Rhode Island cannot hemp cultivation or processing within their borders. As such, Rhode Island residents can cultivate and process hemp as long as they have valid licenses from the Department of Business Regulation.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process in Rhode Island

Rhode Islanders wishing to grow or process hemp must obtain a license from the state’s Department of Business Regulation. Those wishing to take part in hemp cultivation must get only the Hemp Grower license, while the Hemp Handler license is for persons interested in processing hemp into consumable hemp products. The department also accepts dual grower and handler license applications from persons who wish to cultivate and process hemp in the state.

Interested persons can submit their applications to the department at any time of the year. Download and complete the Industrial Hemp Initial License Application Form provided by the Department of Business Regulation. The following are the major steps of the application process:

  • Applications must first include a thorough description of the agricultural area, together with the lot number, street location, and closest public access route. A map, an aerial shot, and GPS positions for the production area should also be provided by applicants. If the growth space is indoors, a thorough description of the structure and a rough estimate of its dimensions will be sufficient
  • Applicants must complete the Affidavit for Consent to Utilize Property, which shows that they own the cultivation area intended to be used to grow hemp. If the property is leased, the owner must sign the statement consenting to the use of the land for hemp cultivation
  • Applicants that have licenses from other jurisdictions or states should complete the Business License Identification Form. Residents without previous licenses from other states can indicate ‘None’
  • Applicants must verify their tax status by providing their Federal Tax Identification Numbers or Social Security numbers
  • Applicants must sign the Licensing Agreement

After completing and signing all the required forms, applicants must send the electronic copies via email and paper copies via mail to:

Attn: Industrial Hemp Program

Department of Business Regulation

Office of Cannabis Regulation

560 Jefferson Blvd. Ste. 204

Warwick, RI 02886

The Department of Business Regulation will only review completed forms. As part of the review and application process, the officers of the DBR may visit the cultivation area to inspect and confirm the description stated in the form. Once the application is approved, applicants can pay the industrial hemp license fees, which must be renewed after two years. Growers and processors are expected to plant and harvest hemp within the licensing period. All licensees are required by the DBR to track adherence using the state's approved tracking system.

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

When submitting the grower/handler license form, applicants must include a non-refundable cashier’s check or money order of $250, which should be made payable to the Rhode Island General Treasurer. After approval, the licensing fee is $2,500 for both cultivators and handlers. The license is only valid for two years. After two years, growers and handlers must renew their licenses by submitting the Industrial Hemp Renewal Application and paying a $2,500 renewal fee.

How to Grow Hemp in Rhode Island

Persons or entities approved by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation to grow hemp must do so within two years before renewing their applications. Hemp seeds are usually available from licensed hemp handlers in the state. However, there are reputable seed banks online where residents can purchase hemp seeds for cultivation. Also, being the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island's climate does not fluctuate significantly. As such, approved growers operating indoors can grow at any time of the year. On the other hand, outdoor cultivators may need to wait for the right season, usually between April and May, to grow hemp. Typically, hemp takes between 120 to 180 days to reach maturity.

Hemp seeds are suitable for cultivation in a variety of soil types such as loamy, sandy, and clay soils. Ideally, a well-drained soil rich in organic matter and having a pH between 6.0 and 7.5 is suitable for hemp cultivation. When planting hemp seeds, it is important to plant them at the right depth w. According to a study, industrial hemp thrives when planted about ½ to 1 inch deep. This allows the seeds to germinate and start growing without being too far below the surface, where they may not get enough sunlight and moisture to sprout. To plant hemp seeds, first prepare the soil by tilling or loosening it to a depth of about 6 inches. Then, place the seeds in shallow trenches or rows, spacing them about 6 inches apart. Cover the seeds with soil, gently tamp them down, and water them well. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and the seeds should germinate in about 7 to 14 days.

While cultivating hemp in Rhode Island, approved growers must keep the following records:

  • Inventory records should give a summary of the findings. The personnel that carry out the inventory must include their name, signature, and date of the inventory
  • Sampling analysis and testing records
  • The type of pesticides used while growing the hemp. This should also contain how the pesticide was used. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a list of registered pesticides suitable for hemp cultivation
  • Emergency notification reports, which contain theft or natural disaster occurrences. The date, time, and description of each emergency should be part of this report.

Throughout regular business hours, the Department conducts occasional routine inspections. Before harvesting the hemp, samples must be taken by a qualified testing facility employee.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Rhode Island?

Smokable hemp flower containing below 0.3% THC is legal for use in Rhode Island. Local vendors are advised to sell only to persons aged 21 and above. Generally, smokable hemp flower is available at every licensed hemp-derived consumable CBD retailer in Rhode Island. Most of these licensed retailers have online stores where people can order hemp flowers. Residents can also buy hemp flowers online by searching for reputable online stores. A reliable online store should comply with the testing and labeling rules contained in the Rhode Island Industrial Hemp Program.

There is no limit to the amount of hemp a Rhode Islander can purchase. However, it is important to keep the purchased hemp sealed in the package while driving. Buying consumable hemp from licensed retailers outside the state is also legal. Online retailers can ship hemp products from other states to Rhode Island as doing so does not violate the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Hemp vs THC

Hemp is different from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Hemp contains trace amounts of THC, usually below 0.3%, as required by the 2018 Farm Bill. THC is the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, which causes intoxication when consumed. Since hemp contains very little amount of THC, consumers do not experience the high sensation common in cannabis. Due to these intoxicating characteristics, cannabis flowers and products with high THC (above 0.3%) are included under DEA Schedule 1 drugs. This means consuming, selling, and transporting such products is a federal offense. Meanwhile, it is legal to cultivate, consume, sell, and distribute hemp with no more than 0.3% THC in Rhode Island and other parts of the U.S. Consumable hemp-derived THC products containing Delta-8 and Delta-10 THC are illegal too.

Hemp vs CBD

Hemp is different from CBD. Generally, hemp is a cannabis strain with low THC amount and high CBD. CBD is one out of the 113 chemical compounds found in cannabis. Short form for cannabidiol, CBD is a beneficial constituent of consumable hemp since it has therapeutic properties rather than psychoactive properties. However, CBD can be derived from hemp plants as well as cannabis plants. In Rhode Island, hemp-derived CBD products are legal for consumption as long as the THC amount is below 0.3%. Licensed retailers are advised to sell hemp-based CBD products only to persons above 21 years or older.

Hemp Applications

Hemp has several applications depending on the parts processed for use. Hemp flowers and seeds have numerous medicinal benefits, such as depression reduction, pain relieving, immune booster, and ulcer prevention. Apart from its health benefits, the following are some hemp uses in different industries in Rhode Island:

  • Hemp Plastic: Hemp is a good biodegradable alternative to toxic, non-renewable plastics. In addition to being more durable than plastic created from man-made fibers or petroleum-based fibers, plant-based hemp fibers have no harmful chemicals. The famous Henry Ford’s Hemp Car utilized hemp plastic, which made the car lighter yet tougher than steel
  • Hemp Fuel: Hemp offers a sustainable substitute for conventional fuels and may be utilized as a fuel in standard diesel engines. Even in private residences, hemp fibers may be used to make biodiesel. However, the main oil firms continue to hinder the use of this renewable resource
  • Hemp Textile: Being eco-friendly and sustainable, hemp can perform functions similar to cotton. For instance, hemp-based bedding offers a comfortable, dry sleeping environment by absorbing moisture. In the fashion business, hemp-fiber clothing has been manufactured for many decades and is growing in popularity
  • Hemp-derived Foods: A true superfood, hemp seed and its derivatives are packed with vitamins, protein, minerals, and amino acids. Vegetarians seeking to replace their fish requirements can use hemp seeds due to their high omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids content
  • Hempcrete: Hempcrete is a building material made from the woody inner core of the hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder. It is used as a sustainable alternative to traditional materials like concrete and can be used for walls, floors, and roofing. Unlike concrete, which has a high carbon footprint due to the production of cement, hempcrete is a carbon-negative material, meaning that it removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it produces during its production. In addition, it is highly insulating, breathable, and resistant to pests and mold
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