Poppies are popular garden flowers, but if you’re confused about whether growing opium poppies is legal in the United States, you’re not alone. There have been controversies surrounding this beautiful flower that can be processed into something dangerous.
Known for their eye-catching, papery petals and lovely colors, poppies are beloved by florists and home gardeners alike. If you’d love to grow poppies but want to make sure you are doing so ethically and legally, this article will help clarify the issues to get you growing these flowers safely in your home garden. Let’s dig in.
Yes, it is legal to grow breadseed poppies for ornamental gardening and floral purposes in the United States. However, processing opium poppies into drugs or drug-like substances is illegal and heavily punishable by law. There is significant misinformation and confusion around this topic.
The production of opium poppies has become highly regulated by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to keep this potentially dangerous substance off the streets.
The opium plant, initially known as the “joy plant,” had ancient medicinal uses, then spread globally for multiple purposes.
The first records of poppy cultivation come from Southwest Asia, where Sumerians grew the opium plant (Papaver somniferum), nicknaming it the “joy plant.” They found ways to concentrate the plant’s extracts into a medicinal drug used as a painkiller and narcotic. Ancient Greeks and Romans used opium to induce sleep, relieve constipation and diarrhea, and control pain before, during, and after surgical procedures.
It soon became a drug used recreationally worldwide. Opium dens became a place where people could buy, sell, and smoke the drug. Both recreational and medical use of opiates continues to the modern day but with many legal and health consequences.
The Poppy Rebellion
The Opium Poppy Control Act faced legal challenges, leading to the Poppy Rebellion’s decline.
Many U.S. farmers grew poppies for domestic and international sale as early as the 1830s. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 caused a major controversy. Poppy growers claimed it violated their Fifth and Tenth Amendment rights. This so-called “Poppy Rebellion” was led by farmers who grew the crop. But the act was upheld and deemed constitutional. Farmers across California had to destroy their poppy crops or face penalties, including fines, jail time, and community service.
After many lawsuits, claims about other crops containing drug-like substances, and long discussions in court, the Poppy Rebellion died down by the mid-1940s. By then, most seeds were imported, and farmers lost interest in fighting regulation.
In 1998, the U.N. put a resolution into place to ensure proper documentation and legal importation of poppy seeds to fight the illegal drug trade.
So, What Does That Mean For Me Growing Poppies?
The U.S. government aims to control opium poppies, but growing them for seeds is legal.
The U.S. government believed it was crucial to take control of growing poppies. However, this is difficult because poppy flowers, seed pods, and seeds are adored by florists, home gardeners, and hobby breadmakers.
It’s illegal to grow poppy flowers with the intent to make an intoxicating substance, such as opium tea or heroin. The DEA rarely will prosecute someone for growing the flowers ornamentally unless they have extensive proof of misconduct. If investigators see a large field of poppies, they may ask questions to ensure the grower isn’t participating in something unethical.
Growing opium poppies for the seed crop or as an ornamental flower is legal. If you have questions about local regulations, contact your local extension agent or gardening club.
An Alternative Poppy
Choose the ‘Sujata’ cultivar, which lacks latex, or German-bred varieties with lower morphine levels.
If you’re concerned with potentially high levels of alkaloids, grow the cultivar ‘Sujata.’ This poppy variety was developed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CSIR-CIMAP). It does not produce latex, which is what is dried and processed into morphine.
Some seed companies offer poppy varieties bred in Germany that contain lower, safe levels of morphine to ease anxieties. The cultivar ‘Sujata’ doesn’t produce any of the potentially dangerous latex.
I hope this brief history of the controversy surrounding growing opium poppies in the United States helped you understand the rules around growing them today. As a home gardener, you should not fear growing opium poppies for their use as ornamental flowers, seed pods, or seeds. Small plots of them will not raise questions, and many seed companies legally sell opium poppy seeds commercially. While there is potential for misuse, the average flower enthusiast just wants to enjoy them for their beauty. Please continue to incorporate vibrant and magical poppies in your landscaping and gardens.