Frequently Asked Questions

July 2019

What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Hemp and marijuana are both from the same genus (Cannabis) and the same species (Sativa). Hemp has lower levels of THC (delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinoi) than marijuana, which can have as much as 25% THC. 

The cannabis plant contains trichomes (a small hair or growth from the epidermis of the plant) that produce cannabinoids, including cannibidiol (CBD), which has a number of reported medical uses and “THC” which has been reportedly used as an intoxicant, spiritual aid and for medicines.

Industrial hemp is defined by federal law under the 2018 Farm Bill as Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 2 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.

Did the law regarding hemp change? 

The laws surrounding hemp have changed often and quickly. The first significant change was the passage of the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill. That bill contained a provision titled “The Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research.” This section of the Farm Bill protected state departments of agriculture and institutions of higher education against prosecution for the cultivation of hemp as long as a state also permitted hemp cultivation.

The second significant change was passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. In that bill, Congress removed hemp from the federal definition of marijuana. This was a significant event because it made cultivation of hemp subject to regulatory requirements and no longer a felony under federal law. Hemp cultivation is now the responsibility of the USDA. They will not only promulgate regulations, but they are responsible for reviewing, approving or disapproving submitted state regulations.

Is hemp legal in California?

Legality depends on if you are looking at it from a federal perspective or a state perspective.

Yes, California has state industrial hemp statute (Food and Agriculture Code section 81000) and in June 2019 the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) approved an emergency regulatory structure regarding commercial hemp cultivation.  So, from a state perspective, commercial cultivation is legal and being implemented.

In the federal perspective, California must submit their regulatory structure for USDA approval before commencing commercial cultivation.  Similar to marijuana, that hasn’t stopped California from issuing cultivation permits. 

However, the distinction between state and federal law is very important for the University of California (UC), particularly UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), because UC is federally funded and UC ANR programs such as 4-H and the Nutrition Policy Institute are federally funded programs. That means UC ANR must follow federal regulation and cannot cultivate hemp under state law. 

The 2018 Farm Bill extended section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill (The Legitimacy of Hemp Research) until one year after USDA promulgates their hemp regulations. This action allows UC ANR to cultivate hemp for research purposes.

Given all the regulatory restrictions, what can UC scientists work on?

Marijuana: UC ANR does not do any plant-based research on marijuana; this is illegal. However our researchers do study the policy, social and environmental impacts of marijuana.

Hemp: UC ANR can work with and cultivate hemp for research purposes only.  However, when doing so, we still have to follow state laws and regulations and internal regulations that cover federal and state compliance matters. For instance, research can only be conducted on UC property and we must supply local agriculture commissioners with GPS coordinates.  Studies, which must be approved by UC ANR leadership, require that researchers have a sampling, testing and destruction protocol in place. The funding for the research must be closely scrutinized, and until USDA publishes its regulations even the origin of the hemp seeds is subject to approval.

Can UC ANR scientists advise on how to grow cannabis (marijuana or hemp)?

No. As with any plant, UC ANR scientists and educators can talk about the general principles of soil and plant management, but we currently cannot give specific advice on how to cultivate, grow or manage hemp (or cannabis).  

Does UC ANR currently do any research on hemp? 

Yes. Since 2017, UC ANR has been working on protocols for several hemp variety trials. Funding these studies has been challenging as has finding suitable seed sources.

Many UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC Davis, UC ANR (and other UC) researchers have interest in conducting research, but previous years’ preparation has allowed UC ANR and UC Davis to be the first to start variety trials in 2019.  These trials are being conducted at UC ANR’s West Side Research and Extension Center and on the UC Davis campus.  If funding and seed sources are approved another trial will take place at UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Imperial County. 

Note: Cannabis plants have two genders 

THC is only produced in the female plant because they are the ones that have the trichomes (although there is a twist in that female plants can produce pollen under certain circumstances). For this reason, some people assume that hemp only comes from male cannabis sativa plants. Hemp uses are much different than those of marijuana. It is the stalks of the cannabis plant that are harvested and processed to make products like fiber and paper.  A hemp farmer would want their hemp to grow straight up in the air in order to maximize the yield. The exception to this is when a farmer wants to grow for CBD; in that case, the farmer will want short bushy plants to increase the surface area for the cannabinoid producing trichomes.

More information:



Robin Sanchez, Director Administrative Policies & Business Contracts

Brian Oatman, Director Risk and Safety Services