The Difference Between Hemp & Marijuana

What’s the difference between “hemp” and “marijuana?”

More often than not, both hemp and marijuana tend to get lumped under the same classification, a schedule 1 drug, in the US.  While both are derived from the same plant species, there is a world of difference that separates the two.  While marijuana is garnering a lot of the public spotlight due to decriminalization and legalization in several of the 50 states, not a lot is mentioned about hemp, other than it’s been illegal to grow over the past 80 years. The question remains, what’s the difference between the two?

Breeding Makes a Difference

When it comes to determining the difference between hemp and marijuana, a large part of the difference comes down to the genetics and breeding. Marijuana is prized for the flowering buds, which contain the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana in of itself has been selectively bred to increase the amounts of THC making the particular strains much more potent. Because of this, Marijuana must be carefully grown and cultivated, as things such as temperature, light exposure, and humidity can all affect how well the plant produces. 

Hemp on the other hand is grown like many other crops, typically outdoors in a large field. While growing hemp has been banned for  the past 80 years in the United States, there are many other countries that grow hemp as one of their prime cash crops. The reason for this is that hemp not only grows incredibly well with minimal attention in poor conditions, but it is incredibly useful.  Hemp oil has a wide variety of health uses, and hemp fiber can be spun into an incredibly durable cloth. Because hemp grows, for lack of a better term, like a weed, it can be planted and harvested several times in a season, making it much more viable than cotton or other fibrous plants.

Does Hemp Get you High?

While they might look almost identical while they’re growing, there is a pretty vast difference between marijuana and hemp. Interestingly enough, while they are two subspecies of the same plant, there is a world of difference between the chemical makeup of hemp vs marijuana. While the average strain of marijuana contains anywhere from 5-20% of THC (specialty strains can be even higher at 25-30%), hemp has a very low percentage of THC, well below 1%.  Hemp also has a very high level of cannabinoid which actually works to reduce the psychoactive effects of THC.

As more and more states begin to legalize the use of marijuana, there will likely be a legal distinction between hemp and marijuana which will be decided by the courts.

About Andrew Alpert

+Andrew is one of the leading DUI and criminal defense attorneys in both the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia. He blogs about Maryland DUI law, has numerous videos on the subject and has been asked to appear on national television to offer his legal opinion on high-profile criminal cases.