Study: 'Poorly Understood' Hemp Is Not Marijuana
But it took more than 12 years to find the gene that distinguishes them
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 20, 2015 8:16 AM CDT
FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2014 file photo, David Williams, right, speaks to media after a small plot of hemp was harvested at a University of Kentucky farm near Lexington, Ky. The 2015 Spring planting...   (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)

(Newser) – Note to legislators: Hemp is not weed. So say scientists at the University of Minnesota who, reporting last week in the journal New Phytologist, have discovered a single gene that distinguishes the hemp plant from its psychoactive cannabinoid cousin marijuana. They say it took 12 years to single out the gene that controls for whether the plant is rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or the largely non-euphoric cannabidiol (CBD), and their finding calls into question the federal government's classification of all cannabis plants as controlled substances. Not only is the commercial cultivation of hemp illegal (hemp products must be imported into the US), even researching the plant is highly restricted, with these researchers having one of the few labs in the country with the federal clearance to study it.

"It’s a plant of major economic importance that is very poorly understood scientifically," lead author and plant biologist George Weiblen says in a University of Minnesota news release. "With this study, we have indisputable evidence for a genetic basis of differences among cannabis varieties, further challenging the position that all cannabis should be regulated as a drug." Hemp's surge in personal products such as clothing, food, and cosmetics has prompted some states to start clearing the way for its domestic production. But in places like Oregon, where marijuana crops are also legal, cross pollination is a concern, reports the Oregonian. "Ultimately I feel there is going to be a position in the world for hemp, marijuana and wine to get along," one legislator says. (Even the flag flying over the Capitol building has been made from hemp.)