Production Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

"Production differences depend on whether the cannabis plant is grown for fiber/oilseed or for medicinal/recreational uses. These differences involve the varieties being grown, the methods used to grow them, and the timing of their harvest (see discussion in 'Hemp' and 'Marijuana,' below). Concerns about cross-pollination among the different varieties are critical. All cannabis plants are open, wind and/or insect pollinated, and thus cross-pollination is possible.
"Because of the compositional differences between the drug and fiber varieties of cannabis, farmers growing either crop would necessarily want to separate production of the different varieties or cultivars. This is particularly true for growers of medicinal or recreational marijuana in an effort to avoid cross-pollination with industrial hemp, which would significantly lower the THC content and thus degrade the value of the marijuana crop. Likewise, growers of industrial hemp would seek to avoid cross-pollination with marijuana plants, especially given the illegal status of marijuana. Plants grown of oilseed are also marketed according to the purity of the product, and the mixing of off-type genotypes would degrade the value of the crop.8
"The different cannabis varieties are also harvested at different times (depending on the growing area), increasing the chance of detection of illegal marijuana, if production is commingled. Because of these differences, many claim that drug varieties of cannabis cannot easily be grown with oilseed or fiber varieties without being easily detected.9 As discussed below, among the visual plant differences are plant height (hemp is encouraged to grow tall, whereas marijuana is selected to grow short and tightly clustered); cultivation (hemp is grown as a single main stalk with few leaves and branches, whereas marijuana is encouraged to become bushy with many leaves and branches to promote flowers and buds); and planting density (hemp is densely planted to discourage branching and flowering, whereas marijuana plants are well-spaced)."


Johnson, Renée, "Hemp As An Agricultural Commodity," Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, July 24, 2013), pp. 2-3.