Cannabis cousins: Industrial hemp vs. medicinal marijuana

by Laurie Avocado

Hemp and marijuana have been so closely related and even referred to interchangeably for so long that the cousins have become a nuisance to each other.  For hemp advocates any association with marijuana activists is the kiss of death.  State level attempts to legalize industrial hemp have been killed when lobbyists were discovered to have connections across the cannabis isle.

The key distinguishing characteristic between hemp and marijuana, both from the genus and species cannabis sativa L., is the percentage of THC, the psychoactive ingredient.  The generally accepted requirement for industrial hemp is 1% THC or less while marijuana contains at least 3% and sometimes 15% or higher.

Due to the diverse interests coming together to legalize cannabis and the stiff resistance of the Drug Enforcement Agency legalization has been stilted at best.  One side of the isle is populated with long-time hippy activists fighting for the legalization of the plant for all uses.  The other side of the pro-cannabis isle consists of denim wearing farmers and suit wearing entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.  Despite the two sides’ common goal of legalizing cannabis they have not come together often, and the fight has been waged on separate playing fields against an opponent which has been winning both wars, the DEA.

Surprisingly, the successes medicinal marijuana has accomplished over the last several years have not helped hemp advocates in the least.  Some would argue that marijuana’s progress has served as a setback to hemp.  One example can be found with the current Industrial Hemp Farm Act bill brought before Congress by Ron Paul and Barney Frank.  This is the fifth straight year the bill has been brought forward.  Currently it is bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.  The agricultural crop of industrial hemp just can’t shake its shady relations with marijuana.

The phrase “legalize it” still represents two critically different battles differentiated by the colorful slogan, “Rope vs. Dope.”  One side argues that marijuana is harmless while the other tries to prove that hemp is not marijuana after all.  For now the two groups continue to relate uneasily and try to avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

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