The difference between hemp and marijuana is a subject that is often misunderstood and improperly explained.
As we see the demand for hemp products continue to rise, the hemp industry has grown into a unique market that is independent, yet still closely related to the Cannabis industry, including its controversial reputation and shifting legalities.
Due to the confusion and complications that this can present for hemp enthusiasts, it has become increasingly important to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana and how they relate to Cannabis.
What is Hemp?
“Hemp” is a term used to classify varieties of Cannabis that contain no more than 0.3% THC content (by dry weight).
“Hemp” has generally been used to describe non-psychoactive Cannabis that is harvested for the industrial use of thousands of products, from clothing to bio-fuel, building materials to home decor, food additives to accessories like eyewear, shoes, bags, watches and so much more.
Evidence has been recorded throughout history, including the discovery of material made from hemp over 10,000 years ago, it is highly likely that hemp was the first crop ever cultivated by mankind.
With the capabilities to produce crucial resources such as food, rope, clothing, paper, housing material, and more, hemp has played a vital role in man’s earliest innovations.
What is Marijuana?
“Marijuana” is a term used to classify varieties of Cannabis that contain more than 0.3% of THC (by dry weight) causing psychoactive effects.
While the use of this term is widespread throughout the world, it presents a grossly inadequate misrepresentation of Cannabis. Most informed individuals and organizations in the Cannabis industry in America refuse to use the term and some consider it to be “racist.”
In early American history, the term “marijuana” did not exist, and “cannabis” was the primary term used to classify the plant.
Between 1910 and 1920, nearly a million Mexicans migrated into the United States seeking refuge from the Mexican Revolution.
During this time, anti-Mexican sentiment had begun to steep and the term “marijuana” arose as a negative correlation of its use by Mexican immigrants.
Not long after, rumors began to surface, warning Americans of the dangerous and homicidal tendencies caused by using “Mexican cannabis” or “locoweed,” which unfortunately lead to an even greater rise in anti-Mexican attitudes.
As the negative perception of cannabis grew, the government began regulating cannabis more aggressively.
After the passing of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which imposed heavy, unrealistic taxes on the possession, sale, and transportation of the plant, the federal government had effectively banned “marijuana,” paving the way for the next 80 years of cannabis prohibition.
The Confusion Presented by Hemp and Marijuana
Based on the context used to describe Hemp and Marijuana, the defining characteristic between the two is based on a single factor — the amount of THC in the plant — or rather whether it will get the user high.
While the intoxicating properties of each plant is an important factor to consider, categorising Cannabis as either hemp or marijuana based on a single characteristic presents a skewed portrayal of Cannabis which prevents users from fully understanding its diversity.
To give you a comparison, consider the taxonomic hierarchy of fruits in the citrus species:
As portrayed in the chart above:
Categorizing Cannabis as either Hemp or Marijuana is akin to classifying all fruits in the citrus genus as either sweet or sour, without acknowledging the diverse characteristics of each fruit.
In addition, hemp and marijuana can often appear strikingly similar this creating another level of confusion and misconception.
This has already led to numerous issues of law enforcement officers making arrests and seizing hemp because it looks exactly like “marijuana.”
The classification of hemp or marijuana absent of a true understanding of Cannabis presents a clear issue of function.
The obvious solution is for these words to have never existed; however, now that these terms have become deeply ingrained in our society, this problem will be difficult to reverse.
The only realistic solution is to re-educate our society over time.
In the meantime, it’s probably best to stay informed about what hemp and marijuana mean and how they are used in our society and legal system to know your rights and avoid any complications when using hemp or CBD products.
4 Key Differences between Hemp and Marijuana
As varieties of the same plant species, hemp and marijuana share many similarities and can even appear exactly alike.
With contrasting legal regulations and very different effects and usages, you definitely do not want to get these two confused.
To understand just how different these two are, consider these 4 key differences between hemp and marijuana.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Composition
The defining characteristic between hemp and marijuana is the chemical composition contained within each plant.
Both hemp and marijuana can produce high amounts of CBD, the non-intoxicating cannabis compound; however, THC is produced at very different levels.
While hemp can contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight, marijuana can contain up to 30% THC + content.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Legality
Due to the difference between their levels of THC, hemp and marijuana are regulated very differently under the law.
In order to grow, trade-in, or process industrial hemp in New Zealand as an agricultural crop an individual, body corporate, or partnership needs to be licensed under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is still treated as a controlled substance, the use of Marijuana in New Zealand is regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, which makes unauthorised possession of any amount of marijuana a crime. From 18 December 2018, the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended, allowing for much broader use of medical cannabis, making the drug available to terminally ill patients.
Hemp vs Marijuana: Cultivation
Hemp and marijuana are harvested for different purposes so, naturally, they require different growing conditions.
Marijuana varieties are selectively bred in controlled environments which are designed to optimize the breed’s characteristics and produce female plants that yield budding flowers.
To properly cultivate a marijuana or cannabis plant, a grower must pay close attention to the plant at each stage of its life cycle and maintain exact conditions in its environment, such as proper temperature, lighting, and humidity.
Jeremy Riggle, Ph.D., and Chief Scientist at Mary’s Nutritionals says that “the CBD molecule and its associated pharmacology are the same, whether it was extracted from hemp or from marijuana. CBD is CBD, regardless of where it was originally derived from,”
So if CBD is the exact same at a molecular level, CBD should be legal whether it’s derived from hemp or marijuana, as long as it’s below 0.3% right? Not exactly…
This is where the law can get a little confusing, but let me explain. (American style)
Under the Agricultural Act of 2018, commonly known as the “2018 Farm Bill“, hemp and hemp-derived products, including hemp-derived CBD, were legalised.
A common misconception about the 2018 Farm Bill is that it legalised CBD regardless of if it was derived from hemp or marijuana. This is not true.