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What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana, though they have several different qualities that differentiate them, are terms that are often used interchangeably.

Hemp and marijuana belong to the same species of plants: cannabis sativa. Cannabis is believed to be one of the oldest domesticated crops on earth and first cultivated around 10,000 years ago in what is now Taiwan.

These early cannabis cultivators realized that there were two types of cannabis plants. One was tall, strong and durable while the other had flowers that had psychotropic and medical effects when smoked. Over centuries of cultivation the durable plant became known as what is now hemp, and the other plant became known as cannabis, or marijuana.

Hemp contains little or no THC, which means you can’t high when smoking it, whereas marijuana plants can contain between 5% to 20% THC on average.

Until the 20th century hemp plants were harvested for their strong fibers, and 80% of the world’s textiles and fabrics were made of hemp. Of all the paper made in the world before 1883, 75% to 90% was hemp-based.

A long history of hemp cultivation in America

When European settlers first came to America they were required to grow hemp. Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut had mandatory hemp growing laws in the early 1600’s. Hemp was considered legal-tender in America up until the 1800’s, and you could even pay your taxes with hemp.

“Cottonized” hemp jeans developed by Levi’s.

But because hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, the industrial cultivation of hemp was banned with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classified cannabis as a Schedule I drug.

American companies still used hemp in their products, but due to the prohibition of cannabis, companies have traditionally imported hundreds of millions of dollars of hemp into the U.S. yearly. This is quickly changing, as more and more states write laws to conform to the 2018 Farm Act that allows for the cultivation of hemp in their state.

Today hemp is used to produce paper, environmentally-friendly plastic substitutes, fiber board, clothing, concrete, biofuel and other durable goods. And that’s not even counting the myriad other CBD-related oils, salves, edibles and other products that can be made with CBD from the hemp plant.

Hemp sees a resurgence in America

In 2014 President Obama signed the Farm Bill, which clarified the legal difference between hemp and marijuana to pave the way for farmers to grow hemp.

At the end of 2018 President Trump signed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, which further clarified that not only was hemp legal, but products made from hemp were legal and the interstate transportation of hemp was legal.

Some of the hilights of the 2018 Farm Bill include:

  • Defines hemp as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of the plant with a delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent by dry weight.
  • Removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, which has paved the way for the wholly legal cultivation, possession, sale and distribution of the hemp plant.
  • Delegates to states and Indian tribes the broad authority to regulate and limit the production and sale of hemp and hemp products within their borders.
  • Bars states and Indian tribes from limiting the transportation or shipment of hemp and hemp products through their jurisdictions.

What’s next?

hemp flooring
Hemp hardwood flooring developed by Hempwood

Recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began holding hearings to determine what, if any, controls should be put into place to regulate the CBD industry. The FDA’s first likely target appears to be CBD-infused foods and edibles, and many CBD manufacturers are anxious for them to see the light and get reasonable regulation in place so that the industry can begin heading towards normalcy.

As for the rest of the hemp plant, new companies appear to be springing up on a weekly basis that are focusing on using the venerable hemp plant for more and more applications that have traditionally used plastic and other petrochemical-based products, such as insulation, hemp wood flooring, clothing and everything in between.

It is clear to anyone that’s paying attention that hemp is here to stay, and the combination of this incredibly useful plant with modern scientific research means that we will see more products than ever created from hemp, which will improve our economy, reduce our dependence on foreign solutions and help to make the world a cleaner place to live.

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