Hemp vs. Marijuana – The Key Botanical & Legal Differences

In this article, we will look at hemp vs. marijuana – how they’re different biologically, legally, and what it means for your life insurance. 

Let’s dive in. 

Quick Summary

Hemp and cannabis come from the same plant, Cannabis sativa. Two common cultivars Cannabis sativa ssp sativa and Cannabis sativa ssp indica. Although these plants have been domesticated for so long, proper taxonomic classification has caused some problems among scientists. Sometimes they are referred two as different species within the cannabis genus.  

However, they’ve been bred with different end goals in mind, much like dogs or wine grapes. 

Hemp contains less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. That’s the chemical difference that leads to all of the ensuing legal differences. 

Hemp vs. Marijuana – Botanical Differences 

They are the same plant by species. Similar to how dogs are the same species, breeding over time has given rise to different strains. Some marijuana strains have bred high concentrations of THC for its psychoactive properties and even medical purposes. Others ignore the THC and CBD, focusing on the industrial uses. 

what is the difference between marijuana and hemp?

According to the 2018 Farm Bill, industrial hemp is classified as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight. As a comparison, cannabis grown for recreational smoking tends to measure in the 4 – 15% range, with some occasional extreme outliers. It ignores the CBD content in the chemical makeup.

There are differences in the growing practices around these plants as well. 

Hemp tends to be grown outside. Farmers focus on height and overall plant mass. More mass means more fiber that growers can sell for profit. When you have limited land available, the best direction to grow is up. 

THC- and CBD-focused cultivars are increasingly being grown indoors, from greenhouses to warehouses. The plants don’t need to be tall because they’re focused on flower production. Controlling temperature, humidity, and light simulate the cycles the plant needs to produce flowers – like how some trees know to start blooming in the spring and throughout the year. 

Indoor cultivation also lets medically focused farmers control for pests and keep the farming practices as healthy as possible. Regulations on medical marijuana are even tougher in many states since the product is used to treat approved conditions. 

The controlled substances act in the 1970s made cannabis a Schedule I drug in the United States. 

The 2018 Farm Bill made it so that anything under the 0.3% THC by dry weight is not a Schedule I drug. However, it made no changes to recreational or medical marijuana in federal law. 

In practice, the Fed looks the other way as states who have legalized medical and recreational cannabis set their own taxes and regulations. 

Industrial Hemp Uses

Industrial hemp is an easy-to-grow, industrially useful plant. There are two main categories of products from hemp plants, fibers and seeds. 

The strong fibers from the hemp plant have a long history of industrial purposes in everything from rope to clothing. 

hemp and cannabis products

Even with modern fibers, hemp is still more durable than both cotton and synthetics. 

Fun fact: the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper and the first pair of jeans designed by Levi Strauss was made out of hemp cloth. 

Without getting too far into textile chemistry, hemp is super useful in modern-day papers, cardboard, fiberboard, and can even contribute to bioplastics and paints. 

Research also shows that it’s a useful biofuel crop. 

Hemp seeds are nutritionally excellent. They have high protein and unsaturated fat content, plus omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, antioxidants, and nine complete amino acids

The industrial uses for the seeds make them great for human consumption, birdseed, and are frequently pressed for oil. The high oil concentration also makes them useful for production in cosmetics like lipsticks and soaps. 

The hope with the 2018 Farm Bill is that the US will not need to import so much hemp from Europe and China. 

THC & CBD Products

These do not come from hemp. This is technically classified as marijuana because most cultivars exceed the 0.3% THC by dry weight. 

THC products include:

  • Flower
  • Resins
  • Oils
  • Edibles

High THC content, while anecdotally beneficial to some conditions, is primarily for recreational use. 

Blends and breeding of strains for their terpene combinations are pushing toward designer high experiences where consumers can purchase products with names like “calm,” “energy,” or “sleepy time.” 

Long-term effects on adults are still being studied. Known negative side effects have come from studies on teenagers and how recreational cannabis affects their development. 

CBD & Hybrid products include:

  • Flower
  • Resins
  • Oils
  • Edibles
  • Lotions
  • Tinctures

How Does Any of This Affect My Life Insurance? 

Most life insurance companies still treat consumable marijuana with the same federal guidelines. 

It’s illegal at the federal level. Therefore it is an automatic decline for most life insurance companies. 

However, the life insurance medical exam does not test for CBD, so that’s in the clear. 

And with the negligible THC content in industrial hemp, eating the seeds or having hemp oil in your lipstick will not affect your exam. Insurance companies also don’t care if your t-shirt or sailboat sails are made from hemp. 

If you’re worried or smoke recreationally, there are 12 companies that don’t worry about cannabis consumption.

Use the instant quotes tool on this page and check for the companies in the link above to see what your rates might look like.


The main difference between marijuana (or cannabis) and hemp comes from the percentage of chemical composition. THC levels of hemp make it too low to use for recreational purposes. Since the federal government allows hemp cultivation, it can be moved across state lines, but still subject to state laws.

Since the 2018 Farm Bill opened up hemp production as long as the amount of THC is less than 0.3% by dry weight, there is also increased interest in the CBD extract since only the THC is regulated. Companies are still developing CBD-based prescription drugs and the only one approved by the Food and Drug Administration is for rare seizures in children.

How Marcan Insurance Can Help

We’re a small group of independent insurance agents focused on helping medical marijuana patients and recreational smokers obtain the best insurance policies at the lowest possible price. 

That gets trickier with marijuana, but companies who won’t penalize use with smoker rates or high premiums are slowly increasing in number. We make it our mission to keep track of the changes in underwriting guidelines so that no one has to be unfairly penalized. 

If you have any questions, give us a call at (888) 987-8447. We’re happy to help, and all of your information is kept 100% confidential