Approximately 30 countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America currently permit farmers to grow hemp. Aggregated production data from the United Nations do not include all countries (most notably Canada) and may differ from other sources but comprise the most readily available source of information. Based on these data, worldwide acreage in hemp cultivation— both hemp seed and hemp tow waste—is reported at about 175,000 acres (Error! Reference ource not found.), growing by less than 375 million pounds annually (Error! Reference source not found.).18 Reported global production is highly variable year to year, and totaled about 375 million pounds in 2014.
The U.N. data do not include Canada, which is a major hemp producing and exporting country. Canada is also major supplier of U.S. hemp imports, particularly of hemp-based foods and food ingredients and other related imported products.
Global Production (Excluding Canada)
Leading global hemp producers include China, South Korea, Russia, and Europe. Some countries never outlawed production; other countries banned production for certain periods in the past and later lifted these restrictions. Hemp production across these countries and regions account for nearly all the reported production and acreage reported in the U.N. database.
China is the world’s single largest hemp producing and exporting country, mostly of hemp textiles and related products, as well as a major supplier of these products to the United States. China reportedly produced nearly 80 million pounds on about 30,000 acres, accounting for about one-fifth of global production.19
Total production across all European countries is reported at nearly 250 million pounds on more than 70,000 acres, accounting for about two-thirds of the U.N.-reported global production. Most of this production is in Western Europe. The European Union (EU) has an active hemp market, with production in most member nations. Production is centered in France, the Netherlands, Lithuania, and Romania.20 Many EU countries lifted their bans on hemp production in the 1990s and, until recently, also subsidized the production of “flax and hemp” under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.21 Most EU production is of hurds, seeds, and fibers. Other non-EU European countries with reported hemp production include Russia, Ukraine, and Switzerland.
Other countries with active hemp grower and/or consumer markets are Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Egypt, Chile, and Thailand.22
Production in Canada
Canada’s commercial hemp industry is fairly new: Canada began to issue licenses for research crops in 1994, followed by commercial licenses starting in 1998. Since hemp cultivation was legalized in Canada, production has been variable year to year (Error! Reference source not ound.), ranging from a high of 48,000 acres planted in 2006 to about 4,000 acres in 2001-2002 to a reported nearly 39,000 acres in 2011. However, in the past few years, acreage in hemp cultivation and production has risen sharply—now at about 90,000 acres—which some attribute to increased import demand in the United States.23 Canada’s hemp cultivation still accounts for only about 1% of the country’s available farmland. Previously, the number of cultivation licenses has also varied from year to year, reaching a high of 560 licenses in 2006, followed by a low of 77 licenses in 2008 and rising to 340 licenses in 2011.24 Since then, the number of licenses has risen sharply to a reported 1,135 licenses issued in 2015. Annual retail sales of all Canadian-derived hemp seed products are estimated between $20 million to $40 million, and the number of businesses active in the sector has grown sharply over the past few years.25
The development of Canada’s hemp market followed a 60-year prohibition and is strictly regulated.26 The Office of Controlled Substances of Health Canada, which issues licenses for all activities involving hemp administers the program. Under the regulation, all industrial hemp grown, processed, and sold in Canada may contain THC levels of no more than 0.3% of the weight of leaves and flowering parts. Canada has also set a maximum level of 10 parts per million for THC residues in products derived from hemp grain, such as flour and oil.27 To obtain a license to grow hemp, Canadian farmers must submit extensive documentation, including background criminal record checks, the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of their fields, and supporting documents (from the Canadian Seed Growers’ Association or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) regarding their use of certified low-THC hemp seeds and approved cultivars; and they must allow government testing of their crop for THC levels.28
In 2016, Canada further relaxed its regulations of industrial hemp production by amending its drug laws to provide for a “class exemption” for hemp in order to “simplify the license application process for the 2017 growing season.”29 According to Health Canada, the Section 56 Class Exemption “better aligns regulation of industrial hemp with the demonstrated low public health and safety risks of the crop” intended “to simplify the license application process” as Canada moves forward with “its commitment to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”30 Among the types of simplifications and streamlining are:
- Reduced pre-requisite requirements (e.g., no longer need to pre-identify planting sites, no more minimum acreage requirements);
- Reduced paperwork (to a single form), reduced proof requirements (to a single attestation), and growers may now apply electronically;
- THC testing requirements mostly eliminated (except for pedigreed seed or applications to be added to the list of approved cultivars);
- License expiry date extended until March the following year; and
- Criminal record check valid now for one year.
The potential impact could greatly facilitate hemp production for Canadian farmers, which could continue to give them an advantage over U.S. growers, where hemp production remains restricted and legal in only few cases.
Following enactment of the 2014 farm bill, hemp cultivation is now allowed under certain circumstances by research institutions and state departments of agriculture. However, official estimates of U.S. hemp production are not available. Based on limited available information, U.S. hemp production is estimated at nearly 13,000 acres in 2015 by at least 650 registered or licensed growers across select states (Table 2). A reported 30 universities are conducting hemp research nationwide.31 Cultivation is beginning to attract investment in hemp processing facilities, such as in Kentucky, where a reported 36 processors have been approved for operation.32
Hemp was widely grown in the United States from the colonial period into the mid-1800s. Fine and coarse fabrics, twine, and paper from hemp were in common use. By the 1890s, labor-saving machinery for harvesting cotton made the latter more competitive as a source of fabric for clothing, and the demand for coarse natural fibers was met increasingly by imports. Industrial hemp was handled in the same way as any other farm commodity in that USDA compiled statistics and published crop reports33 and provided assistance to farmers promoting production and distribution.34 In the early 1900s, hemp continued to be grown, and USDA researchers continued to publish information related to hemp production and also reported on hemp’s potential for use in textiles and in paper manufacturing.35 Several hemp advocacy groups, including HIA and Vote Hemp, Inc., have compiled other historical information and have copies of original source documents.36
Between 1914 and 1933, in an effort to stem the use of Cannabis flowers and leaves for their psychotropic effects, 33 states passed laws restricting legal production to medicinal and industrial purposes only.37 The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act defined hemp as a narcotic drug, requiring that farmers growing hemp hold a federal registration and special tax stamp, effectively limiting further production expansion.
In 1943, U.S. hemp production reached more than 150 million pounds (140.7 million pounds hemp fiber; 10.7 million pound hemp seed) on 146,200 harvested acres. This compared to pre-war production levels of about 1 million pounds. After reaching a peak in 1943, production started to decline. By 1948, production had dropped back to 3 million pounds on 2,800 harvested acres, with no recorded production after the late 1950s.38