Hemp/industrial hemp and marijuana are two distinct varieties of the same plant species. Hemp is a fiber crop. Marijuana is a drug crop. However, these definitions have become confused in the last 60 years. Recently, a movement has begun to distinguish the terms again. It is important to understand the history of usage of these terms in order to eliminate the confusion.


1600-1930s Hemps Long History in North America

The word hemp has been in the English language for over 800 years. The word marijuana is only 100 years old. From the first settling of North America until the 1930s, hemp was the most common term for Cannabis sativa fiber crops. Marijuana was never used to describe hemp fiber crops, which were grown for canvas, rope, fuel oil, and paper. Hemp fiber crops were historically low THC and completely non-psychoactive.


1930s-1940s Marijuana tax Act confuses Hemp and Marijuana

In the 1930s, the psychoactive (high-THC) variety of cannabis sativa, imported from Mexico, became common in the southern U.S. It was called marijuana, a word popularized through the Reefer Madness campaign, to distinguish it from the hemp fiber crops (which no one ever smoked). In 1937, the passage of the Marijuana tax Act hopelessly confused the terms hemp and marijuana. For the first time, Congress defined these distinct varieties of Cannabis sativa as being the same. What had been commonly known as hemp was now marijuana.

 In the 1930s, political propaganda sought to associate marijuana use with psychosis, addiction, and violent crimes.  Despite opposition from the American medical Association, by 1941, all cannabis preparations were prohibited.



1950s Hemp Crops Become Extinct

In 1957, the last hemp fiber crop was harvested in the U.S. Because low-THC Cannabis sativa fiber crops were now extinct, the word hemp dropped out of use and was forgotten.


1960s Marijuana Legalization Movement Begins

In the 1960s, the psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa (marijuana) became popular among the counter-culture. The movement to legalize marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s did not use the term hemp to describe marijuana.


1985 Hemp/ Marijuana Movement Begins

In 1985, the word hemp re-surfaced in the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. This book uncovered information that had been lost for almost 40 years about hemps historical uses as a fiber crop. The book also touted hemp as a solution to modern environmental problems. Because The Emperor was targeted at a marijuana movement and since it was not widely known that low-THC varieties of hemp existed in Europe and Asia, it was believed that marijuana must be legalized to allow industrial uses of hemp. And because it was the environmentalists and the counter-culture that began promoting hemp as an alternative fiber crop, they were not taken seriously.


1989 European Farmers Grow Hemp

In Europe, some countries (like France and Spain) had never stopped producing hemp. In 1989, the European Economic Community developed rules to govern hemp production that applied to all its member countries. The EEC defined registered seed varieties for low THC hemp and methods for testing hemp for THC content.


1993-1994 England and Canada Grow Hemp

In 1993, England officially recognized the difference between hemp and marijuana, to make its farmers competitive in the EEC. In 1994, Canada, seeing competition from Europe, allowed hemp production.


1994 Kentucky Appoints Hemp Task Force

In November of 1994, the Governor of Kentucky, seeing competition from Canada and Europe, appointed a Task Force to study the commercial possibilities of hemp in his state.


1994-1995 Hemp/Industrial Hemp Movement Begins in U.S.

For the first time, farmers, manufacturers, processors, and agricultural researchers in North America began to take a serious look at hemp as an agricultural crop and alternative fiber. As well, the hemp environmentalists within the marijuana movement see that registered seed varieties exist to distinguish hemp from marijuana. This diverse coalition begins using the word industrial hemp (or simply hemp) to refer exclusively to low-THC non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa. The goal of the industrial hemp movement is to allow legitimate production of hemp fiber crops and to explore the environmental benefits of hemp as an alternative fiber, pulp, and oil source.


Jan. 1995 Colorado Senator Introduces Hemp Legislation

In January 1995, Senator Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn), made Colorado the first state to attempt to define hemp/industrial hemp as distinct form marijuana when he introduced the Hemp Production Act. Unfortunately, this bill was killed in Committee due to objections from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.


Oct. 1995 North American Industrial Hemp Council Formed

In October 1995, the steering committee of the North American Industrial Hemp Council made industrial hemp an entirely distinct issue, separate from the legalization of marijuana.


Jan. 1996 Colorado and Vermont Introduce Hemp Legislation

Legislators in two states introduced industrial hemp legislation, Sen. Lloyd Casey (D) from Colorado and Rep. Fred Maslack (R) from Vermont.


This brings us to the current day, when laws surround cannabis, marijuana, hemp, and CBD are changing rapidly.   Before we get into the latest laws surrounding hemp, let's remind everyone reading the definition of hemp. Hemp is legally defined as the cannabis plant that contains 0.3% THC or less.  For years, the law did not differentiate between hemp from other cannabis plants, and was thus made illegal under the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and listed as a controlled substance in 1970 under the Controlled Substance Act.


The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal in the United States. It allows  for the broad cultivation of hemp and explicitly allows the transfer of hemp-derived products across state lines for commercial or other purposes.  It puts no restriction on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, as long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law. 

However there are numerous restrictions on the growth of hemp.  First and foremost, hemp cannot contain more than 0.3% TCH, per section 10113 of the Farm Bill.  Any cannabis plant  containing more than 0.3% TCH would be considered non-hemp cannabis, or marijuana.


Next, there will be shared state and federal regulatory power over hemp  farming and production.  Section 10113 of the Farm Bill states that  the state departments of agriculture must consult with the states governor and chief law enforcement officer to devise a plan that must be submitted to the Secretary of the USDA.   The Secretary of USDA must approve the states plan before it can be implemented.  States may also chose to not devise a hemp regulatory plan, at which time they must apply for licensure under the USDA’s regulatory program.  As you can see, the Farm bill does legalize hemp, but it does not allow for individuals to grow hemp or allow farmers to grow hemp without following regulations.



Under this bill, hemp farmers are treated like other agricultural farmers and hemp is treated like other agricultural commodities.  Section 11101 helps protect hemp farmers by offering protection under the Federal Crop Insurance Act, allowing them coverage from losses.


One common myth is that by legalizing hemp, the Farm Bill has legalized cannabidiol (CBD).  Section 12619 of the Farm Bill removes hemp-derived products from its Schedule I status under the Controlled Substance Act, but the legislation does not legalize CBD generally.   The Farm Bill ensures that any cannabinoid that is derived from hemp will be legal, if and only if that hemp is produced in a manner consistent with the Farm Bill, federal regulations, state regulations, and by a licensed grower.  However, CBD products that are produced from marijuana, even if produced by state-legal, medical, or adult use cannabis programs are illegal products under federal law.  You should be aware of the source of your CBD when purchasing.