Industry News

Reminder: The Cannabis and Hemp Industries are a Political Construct and Are Unrelated to the Science of Botany

Written by Shawn Tucker

Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana….what is the difference? Is there one? The discussion around these terms in the United States is primarily political. This can be seen in the testimony of Dr. Amy Abernethy, Md, Phd., Principal Deputy Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health And Human Services before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25, 2019.

She said, “In December of 2018, the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law. It removed hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).”

The issue with this verbiage is that it splits the difference between marijuana and hemp based on THC content. The reality is that both marijuana and hemp are Cannabis sativa. According to Hartsel, et al., “Cannabis sativa spp. is an exceptional multicomponent natural resource used as nutritional supplements, textiles, building materials, body care products, food, and medicines, to name a few. It has been cultivated for millennia to exploit the plant’s toolbox of useful natural compounds it offers.” [2]

Cannabinoids such as CBD, THC, and CBN, are present, albeit in different amounts, regardless of whether the plant is labeled hemp or cannabis. In fact, a study in 2004 by Pellegrini, et al. found both delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC were found in hemp foods. [3]

However, Ernest Small has a couple of potential solutions. “It is recommended that Cannabis sativa be recognized as a single species, within which there is a narcotic subspecies […] and similarly a non-narcotic subspecies[…]. An alternative approach consistent with the international code of nomenclature for cultivated plants is proposed, recognizing six groups: two composed of essentially non-narcotic fiber and oilseed cultivars as well as an additional group composed of their hybrids; and two composed of narcotic strains as well as an additional group composed of their hybrids.” [4]

The other solution would be to simply legalize and deschedule cannabis in the United States. Less than 10% of adults believe that cannabis should be illegal according to Pew Research, with 60% believing it should be completely legal.


[1] Abernathy, A. Testimony before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.  2019, July 25.


[2] Hartsel, J.A., et al. Nutraceuticals: Efficacy, Safety and Toxicity. Chapter 53 – Cannabis sativa and Hemp. Nutraceuticals. 2016, 735-754. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-802147-7.00053-X Times Cited=122.


[3] Pellegrini, M. Et al. A rapid and simple procedure for the determination of cannabinoids in hemp food products by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. 2005: 5(36): 939-946. doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2004.07.035 Times Cited=77. Journal Impact Factor=3.935


[4] Small, E. Evolution and Classification of Cannabis sativa (Marijuana, Hemp) in Relation to Human Utilization. The Botanical Review. 2015: 81, 189-294. doi:10.1007/s12229-015-9157-3. Times Cited=277. Journal Impact Factor=3.083

About the author

Shawn Tucker