Cannabis, Hemp, Marijuana – it’s all the same thing. Except when it’s not.

Cannabis has quickly moved from taboo to a massive mainstream phenomenon as States pass laws moving it from an illegal drug, to a medicine, and in some places, to an adult recreational activity.  Even the feds have joined the movement with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill which provided a path to grow hemp, an industrial material with endless applications.  Why is cannabis, hemp, marijuana (and various other terms) often mentioned together?  Are these all the same thing?  Does anybody even care?  For the folks that are getting into cannabis-based businesses (or thinking about it), it matters quite a bit.  The various laws and regulations in this area care too.  What word do you use to describe your business to customers and vendors?  How do you brand this stuff?

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plant in the Cannabacea family (probably more than you wanted to know).  In other words the plants that are commonly called hemp, or marijuana, or cannabis, are in fact all Cannabis.  In other words, they are all the same thing.  What the hell, you say?!?  How can that be?  I haven’t seen any of this stuff in the aisles at the convenience store!

As it turns out, cannabis comes in different species (or kinds, or varieties, or types, or some other classification).  There is some disagreement about the taxonomy of cannabis, but it is generally recognized that at least two different species of cannabis exist: Cannabis sativa L. and Cannabis indica Lam. (a third species, ruderalis, has been recognized to some degree).  Much, much more than you ever wanted to know.  Here is what you should know: (i) the differences between species are important because only one species qualifies as industrial material, (ii) the medical and adult material can come from either species.

Hemp is the species Cannabis sativa L..  It is the type of cannabis that was recently legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill.  It has all manner of uses, except those that would be inebriating.  We know this is the right species because the Farm Bill says that hemp is “the plant Cannabis sativa L.” And it cannot have more than 0.3% of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid that is responsible for the inebriating effect).

Cannabis, as the term has come to be used in common, everyday conversation, is the stuff that is used for medical and adult recreational material.  Everyone agrees, this is “marijuana.”  It doesn’t matter whether it is from the sativa or indica species because marijuana comes from both species.  Baffling as it may be, many State laws use the term “marijuana” without referring to cannabis at all, or by generic references to cannabis.  Better yet, many in the cannabis business are discouraging the term “marijuana,” opting instead to simply use “cannabis.”

Marijuana is cannabis, and I’ll leave it at that, lest this post become indecipherable.

Besides the species of your plant, the other big difference is THC, or the lack thereof.  Anything have more 0.3% is going to be regarded by the enforcers as the inebriating kind of cannabis.

If you are building a brand in the cannabis space, these terms matter a bunch.  Applying for a federal trademark, a traditional foundation for brand-building, will require some careful thought.  Since at least some cannabis is now legal under federal law, federal trademark protection is now a possibility.  The USPTO recently updated its guidelines for marks that involving cannabis – the hemp version.  From a brand perspective, it will pay to spend some time understanding some of the finer points of cannabis industry terminology for both marketing and the legal protections available.

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