The Difference: Hemp Versus Marijuana

Jan 18, 2019

Credit Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

With the recent approval of an industrial hemp program in Illinois, farmers will soon be able to grow the crop as an agriculture commodity. For years, similar measures were introduced in the General Assembly but failed to generate enough support, primarily because of the stigma associated with the plant. 

Hemp is a derivative of the cannabis plant, but contains very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinoil (THC) which is the psychoactive component found in weed. Chance Riggins, a crop science professor at the University of Illinois, said the absence of THC distiguishes the legal difference between hemp and marijuana. 

“Even though they’re the same plant, same species… hemp has no psychoactive properties," said Riggins. "That is what separates the two.” 

Riggins said when farmers begin to plant and cultivate industrial hemp, it may actually look very similar to a field of marijuana since they are the same plant but it will depend on what the hemp is being grown for. 

"There's no real physical difference in the plant," said Riggins. "There are different growth forms, different cultivars... Depending on what the intended product is. Fiber productions, chemical extraction, ther's a whole series of products that can be derived from this plant." 

Hemp can be used to make clothing, textiles, paper products, and much more. Recently, the Illinois Department of Agriculture released the proposed rules and regulations for the state's hemp program. Farmers will need to be approved and receive a license to grow the crop. They will also be mandated to test the product they are growing to make sure the THC levels do not exceed .3%.