Are Cannabis and Hemp the Same Plant?

Are Cannabis and Hemp the Same Plant?

The short answer is yes, but the distinction is more complex than you might imagine. 

Both cannabis (marijuana) and hemp are taxonomically the same species, but hemp is defined legally as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC in the dried flowering tops. Cannabinoids like CBDa and CBD are found in both cannabis and hemp. 


1937 - Cannabis Is Outlawed 

In order to really understand the difference between cannabis and hemp we first have to understand the regulatory history of cannabis as a whole. Cannabis and hemp were actually legal in the U.S. up until the passing of the U.S. Marijuana Act of 1937 that essentially eliminated the recreational use of cannabis and along with it industrial hemp. The U.S. government doubled down on it’s misguided campaign against cannabis and hemp again in the 1970’s under the Nixon administration who declared a War on Drugs and marijuana (cannabis and hemp) were identified as public enemy #1.


Cannabis Hemp Plant

Cannabis is defined as having 0.3% THC or more in the dried flower tops.


1996 - Medical Marijuana Becomes Legal in California

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 largely led by HIV activists like Dennis Peron and many others. California adopted the nation's only legal statewide medical marijuana program with PROP 215 or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The act allowed the cultivation, sale and consumption of cannabis for qualified medical patients.

2018 - The U.S. Farm Bill is Passed 

Industrial hemp with less than 0.3% THC was legalized federally in 2018 with the passing of the U.S. Farm Bill. The cultivation of hemp and the manufacture of products containing hemp derived cannabinoids was essentially legalized with the passing of this legislation, however the status of CBD with FDA is still a bit murky. Epidiolex is an FDA approved pharmaceutical drug for rare forms of epilepsy, contradicting and confusing the federal stance on all cannabis and hemp derived cannabinoids as having no therapeutic potential and a high propensity for addiction.

Where did the 0.3% THC Come From?

The legal distinction between cannabis and hemp as one having more than 0.3% THC while the other having less seems to be a completely arbitrary number. The U.S. government used a research paper written in 1976 to justify the 0.3% number. The reason why this is so important is because it is very difficult to grow cannabis with less than 0.3% THC and many farmers are left with unusable crops and even potential federal criminal prosecution if their hemp drop tests are too high for delta-9-THC.


Medical Marijuana Dispensary

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with PROP 215.


What’s the Difference Between Indica & Sativa? 

There are two primary types of cannabis--Indica and Sativa--with a third type called Rudaralis making a splash in the industry recently for its ability to flower automatically. Both hemp and cannabis can fall into these categories, but many argue that a more scientific way to classify different cannabis cultivars (or chemovars) is by their terpene profile and overall phytochemical composition.

3 Types of Cannabis: 

  • Indica
  • Sativa
  • Ruderalis 

California testing laboratory SC Labs has been partnered with California’s famous cannabis competition The Emerald Cup for the past several years, which means that they have likely seen more strains of cannabis come through their labs than anyone. This past cup they began moving beyond the standard Indica, Sativa and Hybrid classifications in favor of a terpene based categorization that groups cannabis into six distinct groups based on the dominant terpene found in the plant. 

Modern Chemovar Classifications Based on the Dominant Terpene Profile:

  • Myrcene (~43% of cannabis)
  • B-Caryophyllene (~23% of cannabis)
  • Limonene (~16% of cannabis)
  • Terpinolene (~10% of cannabis)
  • a-Pinene (6% of cannabis)
  • Ocimene (1% of cannabis)

The effects that drive each of these groups is largely dependent on the dominant terpene found in each chemovar. In theory, a chemovar with a myrcene (pronounded MEER-SEEN)  dominant profile will exhibit the traits of that terpene, in this case sleep or a classic Indica “couch lock” feeling. A limonene dominant chemovar, on the other hand, will theoretically deliver an uplifting and motivating effect due to the traits of the citrus-smelling limonene terpene. 

Cannabis terpenes
Aromatic terpenes are found in the trichomes of the cannabis flower and directly influence the effect of a particular chemovar. 


Is Cannabis Legal in the U.S.?

Cannabis with more than 0.3% THC is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance in the U.S. and is illegal to cultivate, manufacture, distribute or process, unless you are one of the handful of federal medical marijuana patients. Increasing pressure from the public and legalization advocates on the federal government does seem to be having an impact. Recently Kentucky senator Rand Paul authored The Hemp Act ,which among other things redefines hemp from .3% THC to 1% THC. This would greatly benefit the emerging hemp industry and would give farmers and product manufacturers a little more wiggle room compared to the current laws. 

Where can I Buy Legal Cannabis and Hemp Products?

If you live in one of the 36 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that have legalized cannabis for either recreational or medical purposes you can legally purchase cannabis at licensed dispensaries. However, in medical only states you will need a doctor's recommendation to purchase medical marijuana. 

Hemp is legal federally in all 50 states, though some states still prohibit the cultivation or manufacture of hemp derived products due to each state having its own Controlled Substances Act. When in doubt, buy from reputable CBD brands that operate with high compliance and quality assurance standards via verifiable 3rd party laboratory tests for all products. 

Shop full spectrum and raw CBD products HERE!

In Other Words, Cannabis = Hemp

Cannabis and hemp are the same species, the distinction between them is purely a legal one that defines cannabis as having more than 0.3% THC and hemp as having less than 0.3% THC by dried flower weight.

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