(Last Updated On: June 30, 2020)


Many people are already familiar with marijuana; stereotypes surrounding the plant have been circulating through pop culture media for generations. Less may be aware of what hemp is, or how it is used. You may know that it is in some way associated with cannabis – if you have seen hemp-based products in stores, many companies choose to use the iconic marijuana leaf as part of their branding. But it leaves to question, if marijuana is still illegal on a federal level in the United States, how can a cannabis based product be sold in stores? Without fully understanding what hemp is, where it derives from, and how it differs from marijuana, you may have many questions on its place in the industry.  

Fundamentally Different

Both marijuana and hemp are classified biologically as cannabis, in fact, hemp is considered a variety of Cannabis sativa L. But they are actually completely different plants, even as seeds. Their physical structure varies, and placed side by side, there is a visible contrast. So it is unsurprising that the most significant difference between marijuana and hemp plants is how they are grown (I Love Growing Marijuana).

When planted, hemp is intentionally grown in tight rows, with males sporadically placed amongst the females in order to pollinate them. This is in stark contrast to marijuana farming techniques, which grow much less densely than hemp and contain only females in order to achieve maximum production of flowers. 

Hemp is a much more durable plant, almost always being grown outside, amongst the elements. It is rather resilient, often growing naturally amongst the weeds in the West. Marijuana, on the other hand, is typically grown indoors to allow for a more controlled environment.


On a fundamental level, hemp and marijuana are different plants.

Hemp has little to no recreational use and is not cultivated for that purpose. It has a wide variety of applications that allow for nothing to go to waste. Uses have been developed of the seeds, stems, leaves, and flowers. Hemp is cultivated with the focus on being more fibrous, and has to contain less than .03% THC. Marijuana on the other hand, is cultivated almost exclusively for its flowers and with the  intent to maximize THC potency. Most strains currently on the market vary between 5%-35% THC. Marijuana and THC also have medicinal benefits, but its reputation is primarily associated with its recreational use. 


Some may still be wondering how it is possible for cannabis to be banned at a federal level, but an increase in the amount of products with pot leaves on the shelves. This is because until 2018, all forms of cannabis were grouped as a Schedule I Drug and banned under the Controlled Substances Act, until the 2018 Farm Act was amended to legalize hemp.

Although marijuana has remained banned at a federal level, more research becomes available highlighting the medical benefits of marijuana and gradually continues to build a new reputation for the plant. So far, it has been legalized in 11 states for recreational use and 33 states have legalized use for medical purposes.

Written by Kathy Cooley