Book:Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Laboratory Testing and Regulation in the United States/Overview of the cannabis industry in the United States/Cultivation and distribution

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1.3 Cultivation and distribution

At the federal level, marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug and remains illegal.[1][2] (Federal regulation of cannabis is discussed in detail later under "Regulation and standardization.") This doesn't leave a lot of options for researchers and the like. In fact, up until the beginning of 2022, the only federally-granted grow operation (grow-op) was the University of Mississippi, contracted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to grow marijuana for approved research studies.[3][4][5][6][7] Promises to expand grow-ops for research purpose had largely fallen flat[8][9] until finally, on December 18, 2020, the the DEA finalized its amended "21 Code of Federal Regulations 1318 to facilitate the cultivation of marihuana for research purpose and other licit purposes to ensure compliance with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and treaty obligations."[10] This added an additional five grow-ops to support researchers.[10][11] However, the impact of this change on research organizations remains to be seen.

At the state level, the growth, testing, and distribution of cannabis depends on state law, which can vary from state to state. This topic is discussed further in the "Regulation and standardization" section, but here are the key points:

  • Federal law allows for hemp production but still makes it illegal to cultivate and distribute marijuana, even in a state that has legalized such activity. However, while there's no legally binding guarantee cultivators and distributors won't be pursued by federal law enforcement, they can limit their chances of such federal enforcement by precisely following state and local law.
  • Despite some of the variances among state laws, one aspect largely remains consistent: it's illegal to distribute marijuana over state lines, even when distributing between two states with similar laws.[12] Hemp (which must contain 0.3 percent or less THC), however, can be transferred across state lines.[13]
  • Regulations on the personal and commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana vary significantly from state to state. Some states make a limited pool of available licenses available; others don't offer them or instead have specific alternative treatment or non-profit centers that handle growth and distribution.[14][15][16] As for hemp, cultivation and hemp may similarly be regulated slightly differently depending on whether or not the state developed its own USDA-approved regulatory program.[17]


  1. "§812. Schedules of controlled substances". United States Code. U.S. Government Publishing Office. 3 January 2012. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  2. Leger, D.L. (11 August 2016). "Marijuana to remain illegal under federal law, DEA says". USA. Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  3. Bajaj, V. (30 July 2014). "How the Federal Government Slows Marijuana Research". Taking Note: The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  4. Chesler, J.; Ard, A. (15 August 2015). "Government restrictions, lack of funding slow progress on medical marijuana research". News21: America's Weed Rush. Carnegie Corporation of New York; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  5. Weiss, S.R.B. (13 July 2016). "Testimony from Susan R.B. Weiss, Ph.D. on The State of the Science on the Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana and Cannabinoids before Judiciary Committee". ASL Testimony. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Archived from the original on 04 May 2017. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  6. Joseph, A. (10 August 2016). "DEA decision keeps major restrictions in place on marijuana research". STAT. Boston Globe Media. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  7. Rudroff, T. (21 January 2017). "Marijuana Regulation Blocks Vital Multiple Sclerosis Research". Newsweek. IBT Media, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  8. Gurman, S. (8 September 2018). "Marijuana-Research Applications Go Nowhere at Justice Department". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  9. Ordoñez, F.; Kumar, A. (7 November 2018). "Trump fired Sessions. Here are four takeaways from the attorney general’s tenure". Miami Herald. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Diversion Control Division (18 December 2020). "Marihuana Growers Information". U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  11. 13 April 2022. "Can DEA-backed cannabis growers strike gold via drug development?". Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  12. Belville, R. (15 May 2020). "Can You Travel With Weed Between Legal States?". Weed News. WN Media, LLC. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  13. Robinson, C. (22 January 2021). "USDA issues advice for transporting hemp". Land Line. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  14. "Marijuana Business: Licenses, Permits, and Planning". FindLaw. Thomson Reuters. 18 October 2019. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  15. Gunelius, S. (8 September 2020). "Which States Allow You to Grow Your Own Recreational or Medical Cannabis?". Cannabiz Media. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  16. "State-by-State Medical Marijuana Laws - Legal Medical & Recreational Marijuana States". 6 June 2022. Retrieved 08 July 2022. 
  17. Hudak, J. (14 December 2018). "The Farm Bill, hemp legalization and the status of CBD: An explainer". FIXGOV. The Brookings Institution. Retrieved 08 July 2022.