The National Institute on Drug Abuse has ranked cannabis as the leading illegal drug used in the U.S. Though most states have legalized the use of marijuana recreationally or for the management of different medical conditions. The drug is still classified under illegal controlled substances in federal law. The drug contains over 120 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the two primary cannabinoids in marijuana.

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CBD is a psychoactive cannabinoid that is non-euphoric and non-intoxicating. This means you will not get the ‘’high’’ linked to marijuana use but rather only harness the medicinal benefits of the drug. THC, on the other hand, is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. This is the one that causes the ‘’high’’ for which marijuana is renowned.

Throughout history, cannabis has been known by multiple names. This makes sense because the plant grows differently in cold and warm climates. Some marijuana varieties have fewer or more flowers, shorter or longer stalks, and more or less THC. Though all plants were classified as cannabis Sativa until the 1970s, scientists separated them into nominally separate plant species later. This heralded Hemp as we now know it.

Below is information to help you understand Hemp.

Definition of Cannabis vs. Hemp

A Canadian researcher named Ernest Small and Arthur Cronquist, his partner, in 1973 was looking for a benchmark that would separate cannabis from Hemp in their taxonomy study. In the study, the scientists chose to use 0.3% as the cutoff to differentiate the two plants. Years later, Dr. Small would tell interviewers that they never intended to have 0.3% as the legal standardization cutoff for Hemp but instead only used it for research purposes.


Hemp and Cannabis

Hemp vs Cannabis


When in 1970, U.S lawmakers were defining the difference between cannabis and Industrial Hemp for the Controlled Substance Act, they used the 0.3 benchmarks from the taxonomy study as the cutoff for THC between the two plants. Thus, the legal limit of THC in Hemp was put at 0.3% to minimize the ‘’high’’ effect associated with cannabis use. This limit was upheld in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Simply put, marijuana refers to cannabis plants with THC contents of above 0.3%, while Hemp legally contains less than 0.3%. In general, there is no restriction on the amount of the other compounds in cannabis, including the terpenes that give the plant its distinctive aroma. One contradiction you should keep in mind about cannabis law is that marijuana can produce CBD. Even so, CBD derived from the marijuana plant is illegal because the DEA prohibits the plant. On the other hand, CBD from hemp plants is federally legal.

How Much Is 0.3% THC?

The cannabis you will get in stores often contains 0.3% of THC. If you wonder how small this amount is, it is such a small and almost negligible THC quantity in the grand scheme of things. This means that you will have to smoke almost an entire chimney amount of cannabis for you to get high on products containing 0.3% THC. The higher the THC amount of your product, the ‘’higher’’ you will feel after its consumption. Even so, CBD kind of balances out the effects of THC. This means that a high CBD content in cannabis somewhat leads to mild THC effects.

Why Is The Hemp THC Limit Capped At 0.3%?

The 0.3 rule for THC in Hemp has a scientific foundation, nor is it informed by a globally recognized standard. Nonetheless, this remains the allowed legal limit of THC in CBD products by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and U.S Farm Bill.

Presumably, the rules were set by Congress to keep farmers from planting Hemp that they would later, purposely or accidentally, use to generate the psychoactive effects of cannabis. However, farmers are suffering because the variability of cannabis makes the plant sensitive to changes in humidity and heat. This means they struggle to ensure their plants do not exceed the legal threshold of THC during flowering. The hemp plant has a compound called THCA, the acidic precursor to THC. When you expose this compound to warm weather, it changes to THC. This means that your legally compliant plant can be adjusted to an illegal one almost overnight and attract dire consequences.

In fact, in 2020, one in five lots containing hemp plants was earmarked for destruction because the plants exceeded the legal THC limit. Though the Controlled Substances Act allows a negligence threshold of 0.5% for the THC content in Hemp, those whose plants are above this limit thrice in ten years will be banned altogether from growing Hemp.

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Tidbits on the Legal Changes of THC through the Years

The Controlled Substance Act, 1970 classified hemp as a Schedule 1 drug. Surprisingly, this is the same classification as heroin, so it seems a bit excessive.

The 2014 Farm Bill legalized Hemp. It describes Hemp as a cannabis Sativa that contains below 0.3% THC. The bill legalized Hemp for agricultural and research purposes. Since this legalization, the production and sale of Hemp drastically increased.

The 2018 Farm Bill was introduced following studies by state-run and academic programs into the value of Hemp. The Act included in the Farm Bill is officially known as the Agriculture Improvement Act, 2018. It defines Hemp as the cannabis Sativa L plant and its parts with a THC concentration below 0.3% in dry weight. This means that all industrial Hemp was legalized on the federal level along with CBD-infused products. Moreover, CBD was excluded from the controlled substances list.

Currently, the legal limit for THC remains 0.3% following the failure of a bill titled The Hemp Act of 2020 by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul that sought to have it raised to 1%. The bill also sought to have hemp-derived products, instead of the plants or flowers, tested for THC, among other provisions that would affect hemp processors, growers, shippers, and manufacturers.

Why Should Marijuana Users Care About The 0.3% THC Limit?

The THC limit does not only affect cannabis farmers but users as well. If you are found with Hemp having a higher THC than the allowed limit, you will have broken federal law. Thankfully, possession of marijuana above the allowed THC limits carries less severe penalties than its trafficking or sale. Most states have reduced penalties for those found in possession of small marijuana amounts more so for first-time offenders. Below are tidbits on the fines you can expect for cannabis possession. Remember that the exact penalties may differ among states.



Benefits of THC


Possession of any amount of cannabis in states that do not allow it or Hemp with THC limits above the legal limit:

  • A first offense is considered a misdemeanor and carries a one-year jail term with a maximum fine of $1000.
  • A second offense is classified as a misdemeanor and carries a mandatory jail term of fifteen days minimum to two years maximum with a $2500 fine.
  • The third offense is considered a felony or misdemeanor. It carries a mandatory minimum jail term of ninety days and a maximum of three years with a $5500 fine.

Marijuana and driving:

Like the BAC limit of 0.08 when driving, there is also an allowed THC limit because marijuana weakens your ability to focus and slows your reflexes. It is illegal for drivers above 21 years old to drive with more than 5 ng/ml THC in their blood. For those under 21 years, it is unlawful to drive with any trace of THC in your blood. However, not all states have or enforce a set legal limit of THC for their drivers.

With the risk of the above penalties, you now understand why you should be careful about how much THC you consume before driving or the amount of THC in your Hemp. Law enforcement officers cannot quickly tell if you have in excess of the legal limit of THC allowed when driving. As such, they perform a blood test to check the levels of THC. This blood test is, however, a bit controversial because of the reasons below:

  • THC takes some time to dissipate because it is fat-soluble. Therefore, chronic marijuana users can sometimes have 5ng/ml of the cannabinoid in their blood throughout.
  • THC blood tests do not differentiate the method of consumption for marijuana. This is crucial because smoking cannabis causes faster impairment than ingesting edibles that are metabolized in the liver before their release into the bloodstream.

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Thanks to the information above, you are now well-versed in the THC limits for Hemp allowed in the law and can take steps to ensure you do not get into trouble. When taking marijuana to manage different medical conditions, the state requires a medical marijuana card to access the drug. This card also gives you more legal protections and benefits compared to recreational users. You will first get a doctor certified in your state to assess your condition and recommend marijuana use for the state to give you the card. Instead of physical consultations and long queues at the doctor’s office for your consultation, get one online at

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