Understanding the difference between marijuana and hemp

Hemp is legal in Wisconsin and has been since 2018 due to the passage of a federal farm bill. Marijuana, on the other hand, remains illegal in Wisconsin despite persistent efforts to legalize it for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The distinction can be very confusing for horticulturalists and law enforcement alike. Here is a brief explanation of the difference between marijuana and hemp and what the law says about the latter.

What is the difference between marijuana and hemp?

Both marijuana and hemp come from the same plant, the scientific name of which is Cannabis sativa. An article from North Carolina State University published on Phys.org explains that the difference between the two is in the tetrahydrocannabinol content. THC is the psychoactive substance found in the plant that produces the sensation of a high. Marijuana plants have a THC content of more than 0.3%, while any plants with a THC content of less than 0.3% fall into the category of hemp.

Therefore, distinguishing between marijuana and hemp typically requires testing the plants for THC. It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether a plant is hemp or marijuana by casual observation.

What are the uses of hemp?

Industrial hemp is useful for making paper and textile products. According to the On Milwaukee podcast, the state was a leading hemp producer during World War II in the 1940s. Back then, hemp was important in the manufacture of products important to the war effort, such as cloth and rope.

Hemp cultivation and manufacture became illegal in 1970 due to the Controlled Substances Act. Farm bills in 2014 and 2018 have made hemp production legal again. However, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law.