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Hemp vs. Marijuana: The Differences You Need to Know

Hemp vs. Marijuana: The Differences You Need to Know

Table of Contents

Have you ever asked, "What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?" If so, you've come to the right place.

Below, we'll break down everything you need to know about hemp vs. marijuana, starting with the most important question...

What is Cannabis?

scientist investigating cannabis bud

Cannabis is a member of a family of flowering plants called the "Cannabacae family." You may already be familiar with another member of this family called "Humulus lupulus" or, just simply, the hop plant.

And yes. We're talking about the same hops used in beer. It's no coincidence that they smell similar, and their seeds almost look the same.

Cannabis and Humulus lupulus diverged around 28 million years ago. It may have originated in the Tibetan Plateau in Central Asia. With the moniker "The Roof of the World" and an average elevation of 13,123 feet above sea level, it's...the...highest place on Earth.

And today, you can find wild cannabis growing in places like China, Pakistan, and the Himalayas. 

Since then, there have been several main variants of cannabis found, such as: 
There is no consensus on whether these are different species or just one species. What is for sure is that marijuana and hemp are the same species.

An easier way to think of this is by considering another plant, "Brassica oleracea." That name may sound unfamiliar, but we're pretty sure you are familiar with the following:
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Collard greens
What does this have to do with cannabis, you may ask? Well, like hemp and marijuana, all of these greens are one species.

The thing is that hemp and marijuana have distinct legal definitions, histories, and uses, which we will cover next.

What is Hemp?

In the United States, hemp is simply cannabis that has a 0.3% content or less of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Delta-9 THC, is usually called just "THC," especially when discussing marijuana. It's not the only type of THC found in cannabis, but we'll get onto that later.

The terms "hemp" and "industrial hemp" are interchangeable. 

Humans have been growing hemp for a long time.

How long? Agriculture began around 12,000 years ago.

According to Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, cannabis achenes (the one-seeded fruit we usually just described as a "cannabis seed") dated around 10,000 years ago have been found on an archeological site on the Oki Islands of Japan.

The history of hemp and its uses crosses centuries and continents. It would take hours to list every civilization that cultivated hemp and explain how they used it.

Generally speaking, it started in Asia and then made its way worldwide with applications that included bow strings, ingredients in food, textiles, and beyond.

Hemp is a versatile plant with many applications and extracts. Here are just a few of them:
  • Rope
  • Textiles
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Paper
  • Bioplastics
  • Insulation
  • Biofuel
  • Livestock feed
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Delta-8 THC
  • Delta-9 THC
  • HHC
Canvas, which has stood the test of time since it's durable and waterproof, was initially made from hemp. The word "canvas" is derived from the Latin "cannabis."

So, in general, hemp is cannabis that people use for industrial purposes. 

But, as mentioned above, in the United States, hemp is just cannabis with a 0.3% or less content of Delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis. 

What is Marijuana?

In the United States, marijuana is cannabis with a Delta-9 THC content higher than 0.3%.

It's the official term the U.S. government uses to differentiate this type of cannabis from hemp.

Over the years, marijuana has picked up a lot of names:
  • Weed
  • Herb
  • Pot
  • Grass
  • Bud
  • Ganja
  • Mary Jane
Like hemp, marijuana has a long usage history that spans centuries and continents.

According to a research article on Science Advances, the earliest scientifically verified instance of smoking marijuana dates back around 2,500 years ago in Western China, where people used it as part of a funeral ceremony.

History Collection states that Napoleon's soldiers were fond of marijuana during the Egyptian campaign. During the invasion, his soldiers couldn't find alcohol. Islam has been the primary religion of Egypt for centuries, and The Quaran forbids alcohol.

What was plentiful in the region was hashish. Bonaparte's soldiers enjoyed it so much that it concerned officers. As a solution to this "problem," Napoleon commissioned the production of wine and spirits made from dates...which the troops found to pair nicely with hash.

Hemp Legality in the United States

judge gavel with cannabis buds depicting legality of hemp in america

Hemp has a long history in the United States.

In "Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History" by Robert Deitch, every property owner in Jamestown was required to grow 100 hemp plants.

According to ABC News, the first American flag, the one made by Betsy Ross, was made from hemp.

Hemp Prohibition

Hemp didn't come "under attack" by Congress until the 1937 Marihuana Act (yes, that's how they spelled it), which placed excessive taxes on all cannabis sales, including hemp.

However, during World War II, Congress lifted these taxes to boost rope production for the U.S. Navy. The federal government even made a film called "Hemp for Victory" to promote the plant.

Then, in 1970, hemp was outlawed as a Schedule I drug, with strict restrictions on its cultivation.

Legalization of Hemp in the United States

Hemp started its American comeback in the 1990s when the U.S. began importing hemp seed and oil. Then, in 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court ruling in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA favored protecting hemp-based foods and body care products.

Three years after this ruling, two farmers in North Dakota were granted the first hemp licenses in fifty years.

Then, the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills paved the way for further hemp legalization. The 2014 bill, signed by President Obama, allowed institutions of higher education and state agriculture departments to grow hemp under a pilot program.

The 2018 Farm Bill, signed by President Trump, removed the hemp plant, its seeds, and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act. This law, in turn, legalized hemp-derived CBD, Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, HHC, and other cannabinoids on a federal level.

Since then, states have legalized hemp or imposed various restrictions on hemp-derived cannabinoids. 

Marijuana Legality in the United States

By the late 19th Century, marijuana was prevalent in many medicinal products and pharmaciesStigmatization of marijuana, and cannabis in general, came after the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

During this period, the United States saw an influx of war refugees, political exiles, and immigrants from Mexico who wanted to escape the violence. Historically, whenever an influx of immigrants comes into the United States, they bring in a lot of contributions to American society and culture. Recreational marijuana was just one of the contributions made by this influx.

Unfortunately, such waves of immigration have always been met with prejudice. Marijuana use became paired with prejudices against these immigrants and other racial minorities. This discrimination, in turn, led to states making marijuana illegal. By 1931, 29 states banned marijuana.

Then, a few years later came the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, signed by President Roosevelt. It was the first time federal criminal penalties were applied to not just marijuana but all cannabis.

Laws on marijuana only became stricter from there on out. In the 1950s, the U.S. federal government established mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses.

Controlled Substances Act & The War on Drugs

In 1970, the mandatory sentences were repealed, but Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which outlawed cannabis for any use.

Then, in 1972, Congress created the "National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse" led by Governor Raymond P. Shafer, also known as the Shafer Commission. The focus of this commission was to review the effects of marijuana.

The final report of this commission recommended that marijuana should be decriminalized. This notion was rejected by President Nixon.

Restrictions on marijuana grew even tighter in the 1980s when mandatory drug sentences were re-enacted by President Ronald Regan.

Legalization of Marijuana in the United States

Marijuana legalization in the United States began in California in 1996. The Golden State passed Proposition 215, which allowed for the sale and use of medicinal marijuana for patients with cancer, AIDS, and other severe diseases. Other states began to follow suit.

In 2012, Washington and Oregon became the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Much like the legalization of medical marijuana, other states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes.

As of now, medical marijuana is legal in 36 states, and recreational marijuana is legal in 17 states.

In recent years, members of both the House and Senate have brought up the notion of legalizing marijuana on a federal level.

A 2021 poll held by The Economist and YouGov found that 61% of Americans think that marijuana should be made legal in the United States.

What is the Difference Between Hemp and Marijuana?

Simply put, hemp is cannabis that contains 0.3% Delta-9 THC or lower by dry weight, and marijuana contains more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.

That's it.

So now you know:
  • Hemp and marijuana are the same species
  • Historically, hemp has been used for industrial purposes
  • Marijuana has been used throughout history for recreational and medicinal purposes
  • Hemp has been legalized on a federal level, but Delta-8 and CBD are illegal in a few states
  • Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level but is legal in several states

THC Legality and Purchasing Online

There's a common misconception that all THC is illegal on a federal level, which is understandable. However, due to the 2018 Farm Bill, certain types of THC and concentrations of THC are permitted. 

What are these exceptions?

The first exception is hemp-derived Delta-9 THC. Although Delta-9 is heavily associated with marijuana, as stated before, it's also present within hemp plants. 

Hemp-derived Delta-9 THC is federally legal if sourced from hemp and consists of no more than 0.3% of the product's dry weight. For example, hemp-derived Delta-9 edibles exist because THC takes up no more than 0.3% of the product's weight (minus any moisture). 

Because of this concentration limit (not the milligram limit), you can have hemp-derived Delta-9 edibles between 5mg to 300mg depending on the edibles' weight. A larger edible will be able to contain more Delta-9 than a smaller edible. 

However, hemp-derived THC doesn't end there. There are other variants that, because they are a separate cannabis compound from Delta-9, don't have any concentration limit. These include Delta-8 productsHHC products, and other novel forms of THC. 

Buy Hemp-Derived THC Online

Can you buy hemp-derived THC online? Yes, of course (from this exact website, to be precise). 

Unlike marijuana, hemp products are legal on a federal level. Because of hemp's federal legality, a distributor can ship it across state lines to your front door if you're 21 or older and live in a state where hemp-derived cannabinoids are legal.


Now in this blog post, we've covered a lot.

There are entire books on the history and legality of hemp and marijuana.

However, if you'd like to know anything about hemp-derived THC, we'd be more than happy to help!

"Is Delta-8 THC legal in my state?"

"Which product should I try out first?" 

We have hemp experts waiting to answer your questions. So reach out to us via:
  • Email - store@hometownhero.com
  • Phone - (512) 551-0345
  • Or find us on social media @HometownHeroATX
We're always ready.

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