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What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana?

What’s the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Tatum Blakeney

As cannabis becomes increasingly more socially, medically, and recreationally acceptable, it’s beginning to pop up everywhere.  You see it in smoke shops, dispensaries, and local boutiques - even Cannabis Billboards are popping up left and right.  With all this cannabis, has also come to a lot of confusion- what’s legal? What’s not? The difference between hemp and marijuana and the cannabis plant is often a subject of confusion and it tends to be inadequately explained.

What is cannabis? Why does the difference between hemp and marijuana matter?

Cannabis is a genus of the flowering plants in the Cannabaceae family.  It’s extremely important to note that hemp and marijuana are both classified as cannabis plants - but there is a difference between hemp vs marijuana that is extremely important, especially when it comes to legalities. 

While hemp and marijuana are closely related and even can look and seem indistinguishable, The difference between hemp and marijuana comes down to one distinguishing factor - THC.

What is the difference between hemp and marijuana?

Many refer to hemp and marijuana as different ‘strains’ or species’ however, they actually are not classified as either one. They are simply broad classifications (varieties, like cannabis indica) of cannabis, and their difference comes down to the amount of THC content.

There is one main difference between hemp and marijuana, which is how much Delta 9 THC each contains.  Hemp plant have low traces of Delta 9 THC and marijuana plants have high traces of Delta 9 THC. 

What is Hemp?

‘Hemp’ refers to varieties of cannabis where the dry weight contains 0.3% or less THC content. Hemp is federally legal and has many uses.  Hemp fiber is used in textiles, clothing, and building materials and has been shown to be a sustainable substitute for these products.   Hemp seeds can be pressed to create hemp seed oil, an extremely nutritious oil full of omegas and essential amino acids. 

Hemp’s most lucrative bi-product is likely to be the oil that comes from extracting its whole plant.  This is where cannabinoids like CBD come into the picture.  Phytocannabinoids from hemp have been used to make many wellness products like topicals and tinctures that have shown many medicinal benefits.  The benefits of hemp range from pain relief to anxiety relief and more. 

What is Marijuana?

‘‘Marijuana’ refers to varieties of cannabis plants where its dry weight contains more than 0.3% Delta 9 THC content.  It is typically known as the cannabis that ‘gets you high’ or gives you psychoactive and psychotropic effects when smoked, vaped, or ingested. 

Marijuana is also called pot, weed, herb, ganja, bud, grass, loud, or mary jane - to name a few slang terms. People have been using it for centuries - and in the past 100 years has been a subject of much controversy - since it has been known as a drug that gets you high. 

Its psychoactive or intoxicating effects are due to the chemical compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as Delta 9 THC, or just THC.  Marijuana also contains hundreds of other compounds, including cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. 

There is a major difference between hemp and marijuana, and it really narrows down to how much Delta 9 THC is present.  Marijuana and Hemp are both cultivated very similarly, but hemp varieties have little to no Delta 9 THC content. 

In 2018 The agricultural act (also known as the 2018 farm bill) was signed into law and federally legalized the distribution, use and industrial hemp cultivation and its constituents. Industrial hemp is defined as Cannabis Sativa L. that does not contain more than 0.3% Delta 9 THC.  This means that hemp-derived CBD and cannabinoids are legal, as long as it adheres to the Delta 9 THC threshold.  

When it comes to the legal status of Marijuana, it has been changing over the most recent decade.  Marijuana first became criminal in 1937 with the Marijuana Tax Act.  Then in 1970, Nixon classified Marijuana as a schedule 1 drug (like controlled substances act).  And despite new studies and evidence on this plant having therapeutic benefits, it was not until 1995 when California finally legalized medical marijuana and finally in 2016 legalizing recreational marijuana. 

Today Marijuana is still not federally legal, although there are many states that have legalized medicinal and recreational use for those over the age of 21, with many regulations in place. 

Where can I buy hemp products?

It seems like everywhere you look you can find hemp products, from your local boutiques, CBD stores, gas stations, and online.  Since it’s legal you can find it just about anywhere, however, it’s extremely important to do your research as not all hemp is created equal.  You might find that some hemp products are low quality, aren’t made with quality ingredients and CBD - and sometimes aren’t even made with CBD at all. 

When buying CBD there are a few things to look for. 

  • Lab Results.  Always look for products with an available third-party Lab Analysis. 
  • Look for which kind of CBD oil you want, whether it be broad-spectrum, full-spectrum, or isolate. 
  • Watch out for Hemp Seed Oil - this is not CBD oil
  • Generally, stay away from CBD products found in Gas Stations

Where can I legally buy Marijuana?

You can legally purchase marijuana in states that have legalized marijuana, and only from licensed dispensaries.  These states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia,, and Washington. 

Other than THC content, is there any other difference between marijuana vs hemp CBD?

Other than their THC content, appearance may be one difference between hemp and marijuana.  Since both Hemp and Marijuana go through selective breeding there may be differences in their appearance. 

Even though cannabis seeds may be indistinguishable, these plants do have visual differences as they grow. The majority of THC and CBD is found in the flower of both these plants, so many plants that are used for its flower will be shorter and bushier, like hemp flower.  Industrial Hemp plants that are used for their fibers are taller and skinnier. 


  • Hemp and marijuana are both broad classifications of cannabis
  • Hemp contains 0.3% or less THC content
  • Marijuana contains more than 0.3% THC content
  • Hemp-derived cannabinoids are federally legal
  • Marijuana-derived cannabinoids are federally illegal and legal in some states
Tatum Blakeney

Tatum Blakeney

Tatum is the Digital Marketing Manager at VIIA Hemp Co. His passion for helping people finding the benefit in Cannabis flows through in the expert industry coverage and trending topics he provides. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn

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