Iowa Hemp Overview

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What is Hemp?

Hemp is the name given to a herbaceous plant of the cannabis family with a THC level of 0.3% or less. Hemp and marijuana belong to the same family of plants and share a similar appearance. However, hemp contains high levels of cannabidiol (CBD), while marijuana contains high levels of the psychotropic compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD is not psychotropic, which means it does not intoxicate or give a 'high' to a user. THC, on the other hand, is known to have strong psychotropic effects. Hemp and marijuana leaves have the same palmate shape, although marijuana leaves are slightly broader. In the U.S., any cannabis plant that contains more than 0.3% THC is classified as marijuana.

Industrial hemp refers to hemp grown to extract CBD or to process seed, fiber, biofuels, cloth, or paper. Hemp is usually grown to harvest or process the following derivatives or products:

  • Hemp Seed: The hemp plant has tiny light brown seeds called hemp seeds. They are a valuable source of nutrients like iron, manganese, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins B and E, and zinc. The seeds can be eaten raw or cooked
  • Hemp Flower: The flowers of the hemp plant contain most of the plant’s valuable CBD. These flowers are used in the processing of medical products. They can also be rolled into smokable joints. Hemp flower is often medically recommended for its analgesic and anxiety-reducing effects. Smokable hemp flower also helps to improve the appetite
  • Hemp Extract: The totality of the terpenes, flavonoids, and cannabinoids present in the hemp plant is known as hemp extract. These compounds are contained in the seeds, flowers, leaves, and stalks of any mature hemp plant
  • Hemp Oil: This oil is processed from the seeds of the hemp plant. Hemp oil can be made by cold-pressing the seeds to extract the oil or by immersing the seeds in carrier oil. Hemp oil does not contain THC and is non-psychoactive
  • Hemp Hearts: Hemp hearts come from the shelled inner part of hemp seeds. Like the seeds, hemp hearts are highly nutritious, containing protein, vitamins, antioxidants, and zinc. Hemp hearts can be eaten raw or roasted
  • Hemp Milk: Hemp milk is made by blending hemp seeds in water until it reaches a satisfactory consistency. It is a favored alternative to animal milk. Hemp milk is known to contain omega-3 fatty acids and iron

Is Hemp Legal in Iowa?

Yes, the cultivation, processing, sale, and use of industrial hemp are legal in Iowa. Industrial hemp was legalized in 2019 when the Iowa Hemp Act was passed. The law is codified as Section 204 of the Iowa Code.

The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to establish Hemp Research Pilot Programs. Only state departments of agriculture and university research institutions could engage in hemp cultivation. The 2014 Farm Bill prohibited commercial hemp farming and interstate hemp movement. Hemp remained a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which meant that it was adjudged to be addictive, and without any medical benefits.

When the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, it significantly expanded the hemp industry. It removed hemp from the category of Schedule 1 substances in the Controlled Substances Act and defined hemp as a cannabis plant or derivative with a THC content of 0.3% or less. The 2018 Farm Bill also gave states the authority to regulate commercial hemp farming and licensing within their jurisdictions. States were required to submit Hemp Plans to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Prior to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Iowa passed the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Act in 2017 to legalize the medical use of hemp in the state. It gave qualifying patients in the state access to hemp-based CBD products with a THC content of 0.3% or less. Iowa residents cannot grow or process hemp on their property unless they have been issued a license by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).

What Hemp Products are Legal in Iowa?

Under the Iowa Medical Cannabidiol Act, residents of the state who are 18 and over can legally obtain consumable hemp-derived CBD products. Iowa law defines consumable hemp products as those which can be metabolized by the body when consumed. These products include oils, gummies, and dietary additives. Topical hemp-derived products are also legal. Hemp products processed and sold in Iowa must have a maximum THC content of 0.3% and must be made in states or jurisdictions with an approved USDA hemp plan. It is not necessary to have a medical cannabidiol ID to access hemp-derived CBD products in Iowa. However, all CBD purchases must be made from licensed retailers.

Hemp products intended for inhaling are not legal in Iowa. The state also prohibits the sale of alcohol, meat, or dairy products infused with hemp. Drivers and truckers are not allowed to smoke hemp while driving because smokable hemp is Illegal under Iowa law. Public smoking is also strictly prohibited in the state.

Can a Municipality Restrict Hemp Cultivation or Processing in Iowa?

The Iowa Hemp Act does not give municipalities and cities in the state the authority to restrict hemp cultivation and processing. However, municipalities may enact ordinances regulating the location of hemp establishments.

How to Get a License to Grow or Process Hemp in Iowa

Individuals and businesses interested in growing or processing industrial hemp in Iowa must submit applications to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). The IDALS maintains an online registration portal for applicants. The landing page of the registration website has a 'Register' button. When the 'Register' button is clicked, it will prompt the applicant to provide their name, email address, and password. There are four categories of hemp licenses in Iowa: the Single Licensee, the Multiple Licensee, the Association Licensee, and the University Licensee. Individuals and businesses can apply for more than one license at a time. Applicants must provide the following information in the approved form:

  • The applicant's name and legal residential address
  • A comprehensive description of the proposed cultivation site, including a map and GPS location
  • The specific hemp variety proposed for cultivation
  • Whether the proposed cultivation site is indoors or outdoors
  • The number of acres proposed for the cultivation site
  • A fingerprint test to ascertain whether or not the applicant has been convicted of an offense related to controlled substances in the 10 years prior to their application

Applicants can request fingerprint cards from the IDALS at or call the office at (515) 725-1470. Applicants can undergo fingerprinting at approved locations in Iowa. There is a $26 fee payable to the IDALS for the fingerprint test. Completed fingerprint cards can be mailed to the following address:

IDALS Hemp Program

2230 S. Ankeny Boulevard

Ankeny, IA 50023-9093

Applications for outdoor hemp planting licenses must be submitted by April 15 each year, while applications for indoor hemp planting licenses can be submitted all year round.

Manufacturers or processors of consumable hemp products in Iowa must be registered with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA). A manufacturer registration will allow an individual or business to process and distribute consumable hemp products. To apply for a consumable hemp manufacturer permit, register on the DIA's online portal and follow the prompts. Registrations are typically processed within 30 days of submission. Applicants for a DIA registration must pay a $475 annual fee.

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

The cost of hemp cultivation or processing licenses in Iowa depends on the number of acres in the cultivation site, as listed below:

  • 0 - 5 acres: $500 + $5 per acre
  • 5 - 10 acres: $750 + $5 per acre
  • 10 - 40 acres: $1,000 + $5 per acre

How to Grow Hemp in Iowa

Only persons or business entities licensed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship can grow industrial hemp in the state. Hemp licensees in Iowa can only cultivate a maximum of 320 acres.

Hemp is grown either using seeds, clones, or transplants. Iowa farmers who intend to cultivate hemp to process CBD must ensure that they plant only feminized hemp seeds, which are higher in cannabidiol and terpenes than non-feminized seeds. Hemp farmers in Iowa can obtain their seeds from the IDALS or from any approved seed dealers in the state. Hemp plants require loamy soil to grow well, with hemp seeds inserted to a depth of around 1 inch. It is important to water the hemp crops adequately during the first six weeks after planting. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers are ideal for hemp crops as they grow. Hemp is typically ready for harvesting around 16 weeks after planting. A mature hemp plant grown for fiber can reach up to 15 feet high. Hemp plants grown for seed are usually ready for harvest when they reach 9 feet, while plants grown for hemp flowers are harvestable when they reach 8 feet.

Unlike marijuana, which is typically cultivated to process THC products, hemp can be cultivated for seed, fiber, CBD extraction, or for the processing of biofuels and bioplastics. Marijuana farmers prefer indoor growing sites in order to maximize THC production, while hemp can be cultivated indoors or outdoors. Growing hemp in an indoor site often exposes the plant to optimal lighting conditions. Hemp is known as a photoperiodic plant, meaning that it needs specific periods of darkness and light in order to flower properly. Indoor hemp cultivation sites usually have artificial lighting on for at least 12 -18 hours a day.

Hemp farmers in Iowa are prohibited from applying pesticides to their fields before the commencement of planting. Only pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can be applied to hemp crops in Iowa. The IDALS also maintains a Pesticide Products Database for the verification of approved hemp pesticides in the state.

Where Can You Buy Hemp Flower in Iowa?

Under the Iowa Hemp Act, it is illegal to sell, purchase, or possess smokable hemp flowers. As a result, CBD stores and online retailers are not permitted to sell smokable hemp or to stock smokable hemp products and smoking paraphernalia. It is a misdemeanor under Iowa law to be found either selling or using smokable hemp. Offenders face up to one year in prison and a fine of between $315 and $1,875. Iowa residents cannot ship in smokable hemp from out of state.

Hemp vs THC

There are only trace amounts of THC in hemp, usually 0.3% or less. The low levels of THC in hemp account for its non-psychoactive effects. In Iowa, hemp-derived THC products such as HHC, Delta-8, and Delta-10 are legal, provided their THC content does not exceed 0.3%. Under Iowa law, hemp-derived products with a THC level above 0.3% are considered marijuana.

Hemp vs CBD

The hemp plant contains significant amounts of CBD. CBD does not have any psychoactive effects, unlike THC. CBD is obtained from hemp flowers by means of solvents or by means of supercritical CO2 extraction. Hemp-derived CBD products are legal for Iowa residents who are 18 and older.

Hemp Applications

Hemp is known for its versatility and applications in various areas besides medical uses. The following are some of the various uses of industrial hemp in Iowa:

  • Hempcrete: This is a construction material made from a combination of hemp fiber, lime, and water. Hempcrete is used in construction because it is lightweight and durable. Hempcrete is also fire-resistant and impermeable to moisture. It is commonly used in building insulation walls
  • Hemp and Crop Rotation: Hemp is favored as a crop for use in rotational cultivation. This is because hemp roots help to improve soil fertility. Hemp biomass left over after harvesting helps to increase crop yield during subsequent planting seasons
  • Hemp Cosmetics: Hemp is used in making cosmetics such as topical skin care lotions, shampoos, shaving creams, and makeup. Cosmetics made from hemp are usually rich in nutrients like minerals and vitamins
  • Hemp Biofuels: Hemp can be used to produce environmentally friendly biofuels like biodiesel. There are several advantages to using hemp biofuel. It is a renewable energy resource and is biodegradable
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