Americans are rejoicing about the recent federal legalization of hemp. The Presidential signing of the 2014 Farm bill and the 2018 Farm Bill opened up the hemp market with cultivation and other freedoms it hasn’t enjoyed for nearly a century. Once a cash crop grown by America’s founding fathers, hemp slipped into obscurity as the valuable resource it is, largely because of its similarity and look-alike status with its mind-altering sister plant, marijuana.
To further confuse the difference between hemp and marijuana is the fact that they are different forms of the same species, Cannabis sativa. The genus Cannabis contains two species that are recognized as marijuana, C. sativa and C. indica, while hemp is relegated to the sativa species. Both the hemp and marijuana forms of C. sativa appear very similar, with odd-count clusters of narrow leaves that emerge from its branches. It’s what’s in each cannabis plant—as well as what’s not within it, that makes the big difference. The presence or lack of one psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is what defines the difference. Hemp sativa contains 0.3 percent THC or less, while marijuana sativa can contain copious amounts of THC. They are so similar yet so different.
The same can be said for the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. There are many forms, but they are all the same species. Ditto for the wide range of ornamental aquarium fish like discus and pet birds like cockatiels. They come in many colors and varying patterns, but they are the same species selectively bred to promote visual differences known as color and pattern morphs. The differences between hemp and marijuana are not visual, however; they are substantive.
Because flower forms of marijuana and industrial hemp are so similar, a lot of confusion can arise by using hemp flower. True, it’s legal, but CBD-rich hemp flower is almost identical to THC rich marijuana. Many of the cannabinoids and terpenes remain the same for each, with the exception of THC. When smoked or vaped, the aroma is identical. Individuals should be aware that the burden is often upon the consumer to prove that they are in possession of a legal hemp product and not marijuana if confusion arises. For this reason, companies like Berkshire CBD include batch specific lab reports and scannable QR codes on all of their products that prove the product is a federally legal and compliant. They also recommend that consumers educate themselves about their particular state’s laws in regards to hemp.
Fortunately, you can enjoy your hemp flower in many parts of the country—by being a responsible consumer. Use discretion, and don’t flaunt it’s use in public.
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