HomeItemWhat is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized “industrial hemp”, which the United States government currently (and arbitrarily–which is another topic entirely–see next blog post) defined long ago as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent when measured in dried form.

However, the “industrial” hemp that is popular to grow in these regions is not the hemp-for-seed-and-fiber that most of us are used to seeing in fields legally grown in places like Canada and other places in the world such as Tibet for quite some time now. Here in the United States, the “hemp” boom we are currently witnessing might more accurately be referred to as “high-CBD marijuana”. To clarify, I use the term, cannabis, because it separates the conversation about the plant from the racist and bigoted strategies historically used to keep it illegal for nearly a century and allows us to approach it from a scientific viewpoint.

But if you come upon a farm growing high-CBD cannabis plants, it will look nothing like the industrial hemp that has traditionally been grown worldwide. This hemp might even be mistaken for bamboo or a sugarcane patch due to the dense number of plants per square foot. Instead, one might be surprised to find a field that looks exactly like a field of high-THC cannabis plants with spacing between plants ranging anywhere from three to six feet!

Delving deeper into the issue, we find that the reason these plants look like this versus the traditional, “industrial hemp” is directly rooted in prohibition. To make a long story short, let’s just say that breeding developing these plants in secret and without government intervention over the last several decades has actually allowed the evolution of cannabis to progress by leaps and bounds and in a manner much faster than it would have been if it were regulated by the government.

But, without the broader scientific community having access to the plant, the underground, counter-culture community that kept the most important plant in the world safe during prohibition were breeding it mainly in search of cannabinoid recipes heavy in THC. Thus, in general we have come to think of high-THC cannabis, or “marijuana” as the only type of non-hemp cannabis plant there is. However, because the federal government did not know much about the cannabis plant at that time, they did not know the wide variety of effects and capabilities found within different combinations of cannabinoids, terpenes & other compounds found within the cannabis plant. For example, I know people who can get quite “high” on certain strains of cannabis that have less than 0.3% THC, likely due to the potent combination of other compounds.

The other thing to consider is the fact that cannabinoids are always in chemical flux and actually can change in percentages after the cannabis has been harvested due to environmental and other factors. THCa or is tetrahydrocannabinol acid and does not necessarily get tested as the Delta 9 THC that gets us “high”. But it converts to that under certain conditions. Thus, what may be technically hemp when harvested on a cool fall day may by law have converted to “marijuana” by the time the first warm days of summer roll around.

It, therefore, must be concluded that not only scientifically speaking, but philosophically, all types of the cannabis plant are of the same species. While much discussion needs to be had regarding classification including the sativa, hybrid, indica debate, it simply is not true that there can be a stark line drawn between “industrial hemp” and the cannabis we have known as marijuana during all these years of racist prohibition. They are the same plant and we deserve access to all the plant has to offer.

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Andrew Robison
Author Since: Oct 2019
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