Hemp History: Defining Hemp vs. Marijuana

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Historical Considerations For Hemp: Defining Hemp Versus Marijuana

As America embarks on creating an industry utilizing hemp in textiles, medicines, food, environmental remediation, and other numerous applications, it is important to consider what defines hemp from its cousin marijuana. Both plants come from the Cannabis family while the main difference between these two species is their genetics that determine their physical characteristics and the chemicals they produce at different ratios including terpenes and cannabinoids. It can be difficult to tell these differences apart for many people including law enforcement and legislators.

Hemp’s history is closely tied to marijuana in Colorado’s drug prohibition laws. Henry O. Whiteside in his book Menace in the West eloquently describes how marijuana became stigmatized and outlawed in Colorado beginning in the 1920s. Racism and fear fueled drug prohibition efforts lead by federal narcotic agent Harry V. Williamson who suggested that a “Mexican shootout” in Denver might have been caused by marijuana. Williamson also warned that marijuana made its users “quarrelsome and often desperate.” Public attention at the time turned to what Hispanics using marijuana might do in the state’s cities and migrant camps. The press and public officials seized on this fear and racism to significantly shape the legislative and judicial response and Colorado helped stoke marijuana’s reputation as a drug of addiction and menace.1 Hemp due to its close relation often gets lumped into the stigmatization of marijuana and one that still exists today. It should also be noted that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, THC, was not discovered until 1964 when Raphael Machoulam along with his colleagues isolated and extracted this cannabinoid.

Today, as drug laws are reforming we should also consider history when forming policies. For Hemp History Week we can look at current hemp policy and what defines hemp. Colorado defines hemp as cannabis having less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis and current federal policy uses this definition. This general definition is commonly used but where did it come from? According to Dr. Ernie Small, a Principal Research Scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Ottawa, the definition is completely arbitrary and based on the THC content in standard-grown material in “young leaves of relatively mature plants in Ottawa and analytical techniques.”2 This analysis lead to the adoption of the 0.3% THC standard commonly used to define hemp versus marijuana.

As the hemp industry matures and becomes more sophisticated, it’s important to remember history and how regulations came into existence. Creating sensible legislation and avoiding stigmatization and fear can help guide an industry with tremendous potential with well documented environmental and health benefits that could benefit the community. Laboratory testing also informs the public as to the components in a product and helps people make informed decisions. Accurate, standardized testing also plays an important role in the cannabis and hemp industry to define these plants.

Happy Hemp History Week!

Mark Angerhofer
Research and Development Chemist


1 Whiteside, Henry O. Menace in the West: Colorado and American Experience with Drugs, 1873 – 1963, Colorado Historical Society: 1997.
2 Small, Ernest, Cronquist, Arthur, 1976, “A Practical and Natural Taxonomy for Cannabis”, Taxon, 25(4) pgs. 405-435.

When NoCo Hemp Expo 2019 Is Your First NoCo Hemp Expo

Greetings, fans of The Good Lab! I’m Joe Zemek, the Lab’s outreach coordinator. I’m what many of y’all recognize as an industry newbie: I’ve supported hemp and cannabis legalization from the sidelines, and, in my previous political work, by connecting candidates with knowledge and endorsement opportunities. Now, I have taken the plunge into working in the industry, to play a more direct role in supporting and promoting hemp in Colorado and nationwide. As with any entry into a new industry, there is A LOT to learn, so I was very excited about my first NoCo Hemp Expo.

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The attendees fill the floor!

Friday

We knew the event was gonna be big, following the Farm Bill, the move to the larger venue, and the completely full parking within a mile of Crowne Plaza. Even so, when we walked in, my bosses Greg and Teri gasped – it was jam-packed, we were sardines in seconds. Decked out in our tie-dyed lab coats, we waded into the loud crowd to find our friends and meet new people.

On the floor of the exhibitor hall, the variety of 225 exhibitors spanned each aisle: seeds were sold next to soaps, farm equipment next to legal services, tinctures next to extractors. From the massive GenCanna space set apart from the aisles as an island in the floor, to the smallest booths for grassroots folks like Hemp Fuel Group, you could find just about anything short of a graphene production setup. Here’s the floor plan and exhibitor list from the program.

So began a day of slowly negotiating the aisles, having conversations, exchanging business cards, weaving between folks, forgetting to take pictures, and trying to remember what I was learning as I was learning it. To a newbie, everything is impressive. There is tremendous competition and variety among CBD retailers. Tincture bottles were omnipresent.

It was also fun when my political buddy, Governor Jared Polis, toured the aisles following his speech to the Business Conference, taking some time to chat with attendees and participate in selfies.

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The news caught my dyed side

Saturday

Concurrent with the exhibition floor were numerous talks and presentations in three separate conference rooms separate from the floor. On Friday, these presentations were for the Business Conference; on Saturday, they were for the Farm Symposium. After the hectic and massively extroverted nature of Friday, I was glad to be able to—after doing the rounds and taking some pictures in the morning—sit down and listen to panels and speakers in the conference rooms on Saturday.

First though, I had to choose. Organic Regenerative Agriculture, OR Best Farming Practices?  Evolution of Hemp Genetics Panel, OR Industrial Vs Cannabinoids Checklist To Success? This is why one event, even as comprehensive as NoCo Expo 2019, isn’t nearly enough for the beginner. Even someone with plenty of knowledge under their belt looking to expand would have at some point faced a difficult choice when looking at their program and choosing a session. This is a good problem to have… but it is still kind of a problem.

In a lineup of passionate speakers, the most impassioned speaker I listened to Saturday was native activist and hemp farmer Winona LaDuke. With the hemp industry on the rise, we have an opportunity to ensure that native farmers, producers, and business people are included and valued in all facets of the hemp industry.  If hemp is seen as just another opportunity to get rich quick, we will forsake its promise to help change and perhaps even save the world. Native voices are critically important to uplift as we form our growing and producing communities that will insulate us from Big-Business-as-usual when it inevitably comes to buy out small farms and take over the hemp industry with conventional economies of scale approaches, and all the dehumanization that comes with that.

At the end of the presentations on Saturday, I was beat and ready to go home and try to remember everything I had learned. On the way out I stopped by 710 Spirits to say hi to my friends Liz and Cortland, who tried to get me to come to the after party with enticements of karaoke, which I love, but not when I am zapped. Next time, though, when it’s less overwhelming, absolutely.

We’ve posted more photos on our Facebook and Instagram pages. I hope you’ll take a look. And if you want to talk hemp, especially about how The Good Lab can help you, I’m available.