Are Cannabis Seeds Legal to Possess in the U.S.?

by Cedric JacksonDecember 16, 2016

Because of the gray legal area associated with cannabis, it is common to wonder whether you can legally possess cannabis seeds in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question, with the actual answer depending on where in the country you are.

Relevant Federal Laws

Looking at the country as a whole, it is not legal to possess cannabis seeds based on federal law. This comes from the Controlled Substances Act, which applies federally.

The Controlled Substance Act

Congress passed the 1970 Controlled Substance Act that classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. This classification also included the cannabinoids associated with marijuana. As a Schedule 1 drug, that means that lawmakers feel cannabis has a high risk of abuse, does not have accepted medical uses, and does not have accepted safety standards.

Older Laws

The first regulation of cannabis in the United States occurred in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act. This law made possessing and selling cannabis illegal. The penalties for cannabis increased several times throughout the years, such as with the 1952 Boggs Act.

Changes Were Expected

During the Obama administration, most people expected the Drug Enforcement Agency to change the classification of cannabis, moving it to a Schedule II substance instead of a Schedule I. That change in classification would have loosened restrictions on use, possession, and research. This change in classification never occurred during the Obama administration and the Trump administration made it clear that it would not happen.

However, the Trump administration did sign the 2018 Farm Bill that made hemp legal, provided it has THC content under 0.3 percent.

The Presence of THC Makes Seeds Illegal

The Controlled Substance Act specifies marijuana and its cannabinoids are illegal but does not specifically mention the seeds. However, the seeds have trace quantities of THC. This is the cannabinoid responsible for cannabis’s psychoactive effects. As such, that means THC is illegal under the Controlled Substance Act, making seeds illegal as well.

When Cannabis Seeds Are Legal

There are a few key exceptions to the illegality of cannabis seeds in the United States. Specifically, you can legally buy or possess it to use as fish bait or birdseed. However, the caveat is that the seeds that fit this description will be industrial hemp seeds that have incredibly low percentages of THC. In other words, you cannot use those seeds to produce plants that will give you the high associated with cannabis.

The interpretations of laws have changed over the years, however. Now, more people interpret the laws to indicate that cannabis seeds are legal, provided they are not germinated. That lack of germination here is key. The most common interpretation is that you cannot buy cannabis seeds in states where cannabis is illegal.

Despite this law being in place, various states have legalized marijuana over the years. By 2017, 30 states legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. In certain states, it is legal to grow limited quantities of marijuana. That means that possessing cannabis seeds will be legal in those states since you need seeds to grow a plant.

As of 2019, medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and recreational cannabis is legal in 10 additional states.

Keep in mind that even though all of those states legalized cannabis in at least some situations, the specific laws vary. There will be restrictions on how much you can possess, where you can buy it, whether you can grow it, and how many cannabis plants you can grow. There may also be restrictions on whether you can sell cannabis without a specific license, without restrictions on gifting it. Alternatively, cannabis may not be legally allowed to ever change hands. Because of this, you should always look at the specific laws in your state before buying or possessing cannabis or cannabis seeds.

States Have Varying Stances on Seeds

The specific laws regarding cannabis seeds, including possessing and/or growing them, will vary greatly by states. Some states do not allow any marijuana at all, so cannabis seeds are also illegal. Others will allow medical and/or recreational marijuana. Those states that allow some cannabis do not always have clear-cut regulations.

As a quick overview of the potential stances on cannabis and its seeds, a state may:

  • Not allow the possession of any cannabis or its seeds.
  • Allow possession and use of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes, but not let you possess seeds or grow your own cannabis.
  • Allow possession and use of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes and let you grow cannabis for personal use in limited quantities.

There is even a confusing stance in some states with medical and/or recreational marijuana. In certain states, you cannot have any cannabis seeds. This means that if you find cannabis seeds mixed into your legal cannabis buds, it is not legal to keep them.

You Might Be Able to Possess Seeds but Not Grow Them

To make the entire question of cannabis seed legality even more complicated, some states let you legally possess the seeds but not grow them. Just under 20 states let you legally grow cannabis plants. So, even if you can legally possess the seeds in other states, you cannot do anything with them.

In the following states, you can possess, buy, and use cannabis for recreational use, including seeds. The information is as of 2019.

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington, D.C.

The following states allow for cultivation, possession, and use of cannabis for medical reasons:

  • Arizona
  • Hawaii
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

Legality of Buying Online

Because cannabis is illegal to possess on the federal level, it is complicated to buy the seeds online in the United States. That comes from the fact that it is illegal to send THC in any quantity using the United States Postal Service. This means that if you are in an area where it is legal to possess cannabis seeds, you should find a local supplier.

Even so, numerous companies sell cannabis seeds and deliver them within the United States. Those companies have carefully evaluated all of the laws and regulations regarding cannabis seed possession and sale so that you do not have to. You can also find online retailers of cannabis seeds that ship from another country where the seeds are legal. Before buying from any online cannabis seed retailer, confirm that the company in question follows all the laws.

If you are interested in purchasing seeds online, Leafist recommends Seedsman for a variety of strains along with discrete shipping.

Legality of Buying Seeds Abroad

Even if you enter the country via a state where cannabis is legal, you cannot legally bring the seeds (or plant) into the country. This means you should not buy cannabis seeds abroad with the intention of bringing it back. That also applies to cannabis labeled for “souvenir purposes.”

One reason you cannot buy seeds abroad and bring them into the country is the federal law. After all, cannabis is not legally on the federal level, so the government will not let you bring it into the country.

You should also consider that this is not exclusive to cannabis seeds. The average person cannot legally bring seeds or plants, including those of non-controlled substances, into the country without special permission. That is a universal law that many other countries have as well, designed to protect each country’s ecosystem.

You Can Still Buy Online Internationally

Despite the illegality of buying cannabis seeds abroad, you can still easily buy them online internationally. There are numerous established seed banks internationally with experience offering discrete packaging. This packaging lets it get through customs without a problem.

Technically, these retailers are breaking the law and it is illegal to buy the seeds from another country. In reality, their experience means that customs is unlikely to check the packaging. If the packaging does get checked, you will probably not get in legal trouble. You may just get a notice of confiscation.

Why You Might Want Seeds

In most areas where cannabis is legal, you should have no problem finding a legal dispensary. In that case, why would you want to possess cannabis seeds and grow your own plants?

Some people choose to grow their own cannabis plants so they can be in full control of their conditions. This way, you know that the plant is fully organic and what nutrients it was exposed to. It can also save money once you get the hang of growing and offer the convenience of not having to go to the dispensary.

Understanding Cannabis Seeds

With a better idea on the legality of possessing cannabis seeds in the United States, make sure you understand them.

Indica vs. Sativa

The two most popular strains of cannabis are indica and sativa, both of which are available as seeds. Indica leads to a fully relaxed state while sativa will give you more energy. Growing sativa will take longer, and the seeds are more sensitive.

Types of Seeds

When you buy cannabis seeds, they may be regular, feminized, or autoflower seeds. Regular seeds include both females and males. Some growers prefer this combination of seeds since they do not have any backcrossing, which is like inbreeding but for plants. The other types of seeds do have backcrossing. The downside is that you do need to wait until the reproductive organs of the seeds show during flowering. At this point, get rid of the males, since they cannot produce buds and would pollinate female seeds, leading to seeded flowers.

Feminized seeds are all females that will produce buds. This makes them straightforward to use as you can just start growing without having to worry about sexing the plants and getting rid of some. For further convenience, it eliminates the risk of a male accidentally getting into your cannabis crop, which could happen if you sexed the seeds yourself. That would be problematic as a single male could pollinate the full crop. That pollination would lead to the females focusing on seed production instead of bud production.

Finally, autoflower seeds will naturally leave the vegetative stage and enter the flowering stage as they age, instead of doing so because of the light cycle. These seeds tend to have shorter times between growing and harvesting, sometimes only requiring 2 ½ or 3 months. The caveat is that autoflower seeds tend to be less potent. Even so, they are popular if you do not want to put much time or effort into growing your cannabis seeds.

Survival Rates

You need to figure out how many cannabis seeds to purchase, which depends somewhat on the typical survival seeds. No matter where you buy the seeds, a small number will not germinate, or they may die off. The general rule of thumb is to start with around four times as many seeds as you want plants for regular seeds. This accounts for some seeds being male and some not thriving. In the case of autoflower or feminized seeds, try twice as many seeds as you want plants. It is better to end up with too many cannabis plants than too few, as long as you do not pass the legal limit for growing in your state.

Pricing

The cost of cannabis seeds can vary significantly based on the quality of the genetics, the strain, and the type of seed. Most of the time, breeders sell cannabis seeds in packs of 10 to 12. You can find seeds as affordable as just $40, but those with high-end genetics can easily cost several hundred dollars or even $500 per pack.

Expect to pay more for autoflower and feminized seeds than regular ones. This is a direct result of the breeding required, which took the breeder time. Those seeds will also get you buds more quickly, so you get a convenience charge.

Tips for Buying Cannabis Seeds in the US

If you choose to buy cannabis seeds in the United States, start by doing your research. Make sure that it is legal to do so in your part of the country. Then, confirm that it is legal for you to grow your seeds. Remember that some states only let you possess cannabis seeds but not legally grow them.

Because growing cannabis seeds is not legal in every state, some companies selling cannabis seeds online will take advantage of this fact to sell lower-quality seeds. Theoretically, this does not matter in states where you cannot legally grow the seeds. After all, you only need quality seeds if you will grow them. Of course, few people will buy cannabis seeds without any intention of growing them. Because of this, make sure that the retailer you buy your seeds from specifies they are for growing.

Research the Seeds First

As with any other purchase you make, you should take the time to research the seeds before buying them. The research should help you decide the strain you want to buy in addition to where to buy the seeds. There are numerous breeders and seed banks. The only downside is that it can sometimes be challenging to find information on them due to the gray area of cannabis legality in the United States.

Seed Genetics

When choosing cannabis seeds, genetics should play an important role. In the case of the best seeds, the breeder will be able to tell you the background of the seeds, including crossings. Without information on seed genetics, you have no method of knowing the quality of the seeds or the plants they will produce.

The issue of genetics is why you should always choose to buy from a professional breeder when possible. They will usually backcross strains several times. This lets them ensure the plants consistently show the genetics and stabilizes those genetics.

Tips for Buying at the Dispensary

If you have a legal cannabis dispensary near you, this will typically be the simplest method of buying cannabis seeds. Just remember that your options will be somewhat limited. If your goal is to buy seeds, you should be able to get information and products at the dispensary. However, the dispensary will likely focus more on products and flowers. Because of this, you may want to call ahead to confirm they carry seeds.

What About Legality of Seeds in Other Countries?

Every country has its own laws regarding cannabis seeds. Most people know that the Netherlands allows cannabis and its seeds. Cannabis is illegal in the United Kingdom, but you can possess, buy, or sell the seeds as long as you do not grow them. The same is true in France. Spain is similar, but you can buy and sell the seeds if it is only for private use in your private areas.

You can legally buy, sell, and possess the seeds in Italy but cannot cultivate it without a license. In practice, the government rarely goes after those with just one plant for personal use. In Germany, cannabis is illegal without a medical prescription. You can possess cannabis seeds there, but cannot buy, sell, grow, or use them in any way.

Conclusion

It is not legal to possess cannabis seeds in the United States at the federal level, but you can legally possess it in many states. The recent Farm Bill provides some leniency for seeds with extremely low THC content. Look at your state’s specific laws for more information.

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