In California, medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, and in November 2016, voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, marijuana is still illegal on a national level.

Yet new companies are showing up online that allow consumers to buy hemp-based, CBD-rich products and get them shipped right to their door in any of the 50 states. So how are these products legal outside of the few states that have passed cannabis-friendly legislation?

Let’s look at how federal laws governing hemp and marijuana in the U.S. have changed.

What’s the Difference?

Hemp and marijuana both refer to the same species of plant, Cannabis sativa, yet they’re very different. As a helpful comparison, think about the different types of dog breeds. While they’re all the same species (Canis familiaris), different breeds have been bred for centuries to serve different functions.

The same principle applies to hemp and marijuana. The most common and popular marijuana strains (Trainwreck, White Widow, and many more) were bred for their psychoactive and physiological effects. On the other hand, hemp was bred for its fast-growing, fibrous stalks that can be used to make clothing, paper, and other goods.

As a result, marijuana strains tend to have very high levels of THC while hemp has very low levels of THC. When it comes to the THC content in hemp and marijuana, it’s like comparing a chihuahua to a pit bull. But despite these clear differences, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 placed hemp in the same category as marijuana, making both plant varieties illegal in the U.S.

Hemp Gets Reclassified

The mounting evidence for the therapeutic benefits of CBD, a compound found abundantly in hemp, as well as the obvious industrial utility of the plant caused the U.S. government to reevaluate its stance on hemp.

Congress passed the Agricultural Act of 2014 which created a hemp pilot program. The program allowed agricultural research institutions to apply for a license and legally grow hemp in the U.S. for research purposes.

Congress went even further with the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. The bill essentially legalized the cultivation, transport, and sale of hemp by creating a new distinction for the plant separate from the still federally illegal marijuana.

Under federal law, hemp is now defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC by dry weight and marijuana is defined as cannabis containing more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

While residents in states like California have access to the full spectrum of cannabis products for medical and recreational use, consumers across the U.S. can now purchase CBD-rich, hemp-based products. Some cannabis businesses have been able to successfully compete in both markets.

Closing Thoughts

Recent changes to federal law have made the production and sale of hemp legal in the U.S. If you’re considering expanding your business to include hemp-based products that can be sold in all 50 states, then testing is even more critical to win consumer trust and ensure you’re following federal regulations.

At Encore Labs, we have over 25 years of lab experience and offer comprehensive cannabis testing to ensure a consistent and safe product. Contact us today to learn more.