So what's the difference between hemp and marijuana anyway?

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In December 2018, a federal Farm Bill was signed into law that removes hemp — cannabis plants with a trace amount of the chemical compound that gets you high — from the Controlled Substance Act.

But what's the difference between hemp and marijuana?

The answer to that question may be on the minds of Pennsylvania residents this week, after State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said Tuesday a plan was submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows for the full commercial production of industrial hemp.

The state said its program will also remove growing caps of 100 acres for current and new applicants.

While hemp and its popular cousin, marijuana, are both varieties of the herbaceous flowering plant known as cannabis sativa, they're different in a number of ways.

The chemical makeup

It comes down to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, a compound that is the main active, intoxicating ingredient of cannabis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, THC is plentiful in marijuana and able to attach to molecules called cannabinoid receptors on neurons in the brain and activate them, disrupting various mental and physical functions. Thus, smoking marijuana can impair things like memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception.

The chemical makeup of hemp contains just trace amount of THC, making it impossible to feel any psychoactive effect or get a “high”.

The appearance and cultivation

Marijuana and hemp are so different in appearance that most people wouldn’t be able to tell that they belong to the same genus of plants. Marijuana is short and bushy, containing palmate leaves with serrated leaflets. It has a vegetative phase and a flowering phase. It is cross-bred from different strains and carefully grown in climate-controlled indoor environments.

Hemp has tall, fibrous stalks that are strong and have very few flowering buds. It is grown outdoors.

The use

Marijuana use has been largely recreational, and its strains are optimized to produce THC-containing trichomes (hair) on the plant's buds.

Medical marijuana also uses the marijuana plant to treat diseases or conditions.

Hemp’s production was curtailed after World War II and its cultivation became illegal in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, which classified all varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant as a schedule one drug.

Hemp is used in a multitude of body care products, as well as to make ropes, clothing, wax, resin, plastic, etc.


Marijuana in Pennsylvania remains illegal for recreational use, and it’s possible that politics and demographics will keep our state lawmakers from approving pot sales anytime soon.


Legalize pot in Pennsylvania? Highly unlikely anytime soon
“There is no possibility, in my opinion, of Pennsylvania pursuing recreational marijuana usage [anytime soon],” said Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, in November.

Under Pennsylvania’s proposed plan, industrial hemp would be under the Controlled Plant and Noxious Weed Committee, which would make it a controlled plant.

This label would require growers to obtain permits and be subject to enforcement. But there would be no limit on the number of applicants.

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