The new Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-334) (the “Act”) was signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2018. Much press has been devoted to the fact that the Act generally legalizes industrial hemp and will provide federal Crop Insurance for that crop.

While this is potentially good news for farmers and their bankers, questions remain for bankers about how they can effectively identify a legal hemp crop and distinguish it from an illegal marijuana crop. Although industrial hemp typically looks very different from marijuana grown for recreational consumption, both are derived from the same genetic species: cannabis sativa. Under the Act, the legal difference appears to be based on the THC levels in the processed (or “dry weight”) product.

The Act defines “hemp” to mean: “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.” Act, §10113.

The revisions to the Federal Insurance Crop Act use that same definition and provide that “hemp” as so defined can be insured under the federal crop program. Act §§11101 and 11119.

Thus, the legality of marijuana under federal law will be determined by whether the THC it contains, by dry weight, is less than 0.3 percent. If the THC level is 0.3 percent or greater, the crop is still subject to the federal Controlled Substance Act as a Schedule 1 drug (similar to heroin).

As the Act goes into effect and federal regulators weigh in on it, banks will need to consider whether they are willing to lend against the legal crop as they would against any other agricultural product, and will also have to examine how they can ensure that the crop against which they are lending has a legally acceptable THC level.

We are starting to work with botanists and others to see how lenders can lend against hemp crops and audit the crop’s compliance with the Act. Certainly, the approach that will be taken by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation and the Secretary of Agriculture concerning the Corporation’s providing of crop insurance for hemp will be critical for bankers wanting to enter the field.