Botanically, hemp and marijuana are from the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, but from different varieties or cultivars. However, hemp and marijuana are genetically distinct forms of cannabis that are distinguished by their use and chemical composition as well as by differing cultivation practices in their production. While marijuana generally refers to the cultivated plant used as a psychotropic drug (whether used for medicinal or recreational purposes), hemp is cultivated for use in the production of a wide range of products, including foods and beverages, personal care products, nutritional supplements, fabrics and textiles, paper, construction materials, and other manufactured and industrial goods. Hemp and marijuana also have separate statutory definitions in U.S. law.
Despite these differences, growing hemp has been restricted in the United States until recently, and the U.S. market has been largely dependent on imports for finished products and as an ingredient for use in further processing. Hemp's association with marijuana placed its production under U.S. drug laws wherein all cannabis varieties, including hemp, were considered Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Since the late 1950s, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has strictly controlled and regulated hemp production. Prior to the late 1950s, hemp in the United States was considered an agricultural commodity, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) supported its production.
Restrictions on U.S. hemp production and marketing were relaxed by changes enacted in the 2014 farm bill (Agricultural Act of 2014, P.L. 113-79) and were further relaxed in the 2018 farm bill (Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, P.L. 115-334). These changes provide further differentiation between hemp and marijuana in terms of farm policy and federal regulatory oversight.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains oversight of hemp-derived consumer products under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. §§ 301 et seq.). FDA's jurisdiction includes hemp and hemp-derived products as a food and food ingredient, as well as an ingredient for use in body products, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and therapeutic products.
Hemp and marijuana are distinct in several key ways: (1) statutory definitions and regulatory oversight, (2) chemical and genetic compositions, and (3) production practices and use. This fact sheet describes these differences, which are summarized in the following figure: