Hemp and Marijuana: What’s the Difference?


Hemp and marijuana are both derived from the same plant species: Cannabis sativa.  Within C. sativa are varieties that are bred for various purposes.  Plants grown to produce fiber and seed products are called “hemp” and plants grown for medicinal or recreational purposes (traditionally, a high THC content) are referred to as “marijuana.”  These definitions have led to the conventional notion that marijuana products are high in THC while hemp products contain little or no THC and are high in CBD.  As the cannabis industry continues to grow and research attempts to further elucidate genetic differences between cannabis and hemp, this terminology and how we classify cannabis plants could (and should) change.

For policymakers, a limited and often misinformed knowledge in cannabis genetics makes differentiating hemp and marijuana a difficult and superficial task.  In the 1970s, Canadian scientist Ernest Small published a taxonomic report in which he drew an arbitrary line: he decided that 0.3% THC in a sifted batch of cannabis flowers was what determined the difference between hemp and marijuana.  This decision, written 30 years ago in obscurity has had far reaching ramifications for how countries all over the world regulate cannabis.  In the US, any cannabis plant with a THC content higher than 0.3% is deemed marijuana and therefore federally illegal