Rescue 1 CBD Blog

Marijuana vs Cannabis vs Hemp

First responders need to know about the legal differences

In reference to policy, your contract and/or the law, these terms are very important to understand: Marijuana, cannabis, hemp and cannabinoids. Some of them can share the same meaning but all of them could dictate whether you can or cannot use CBD in your department.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. these definitions are from the federal gov’t.  Everything else is my experience with other fire departments and their union/administrative policy. 


Let’s look at the federal definitions to clear up any confusion.

Cannabis- The FDA definition: Cannabis is a plant of the Cannabaceae family and contains more than eighty biologically active chemical compounds. The most commonly known compounds are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Parts of the Cannabis sativa plant have been controlled under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) since 1970 under the drug class “Marihuana” (commonly referred to as “marijuana”)

The DEA mentions cannabis once on the controlled substances list as an alias to “Marihuana”

the federal definition of cannabis and marijuana

Hemp- Any Cannabis Sativa plant that has less than 0.3% THC by weight

Marijuana- Cannabis (any species) that contains more than 0.3% of THC by weight.

CannabinoidsNo federal definition. The FDA mentions cannabinoids once in the farm bill as an extract from the hemp plant. Cannabinoids are A family of compounds found in cannabis plants. CBD and THC are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. Other minor cannabinoids like CBG, CBN and CBC are also present in cannabis.

Besides getting asked “Will I fail a drug test taking CBD?”, the next most frequently asked question we get is “Are firefighters allowed to take CBD?”

And my answer is always: what does your policy or union contract say about these four words?

What does your policy say?

These four words are all that matter

By these federal definitions, CBD is made from hemp, not marijuana. So if your policy just prohibits marijuana, then clearly you’re not breaking any rules by taking CBD.

However, if your policy prohibits the use of all hemp products, then you’re prohibited from using CBD.

This is what I mean by having to understand the language.

The definitions may not be understood by your administration or the city/county you work for.

For example: They may prohibit marijuana and then informally state you’re not allowed to take CBD because the policy clearly prohibits marijuana.

A lot of us are still under the misconception that hemp and marijuana are still considered the same plant. That’s just not true any more.

In other words, whether you’re allowed to use CBD or not is all about the language. I’ve had conversations with a few departments around the country regarding their policy and their union contracts. I’ll share with you what I’ve seen over the last few years:

Instances where you’re allowed to use CBD:

-No mention of cannabinoids or hemp in the policy

-If the policy only prohibits you from failing a drug test

Marijuana being prohibited would not cover the definition of CBD as you can see from the federal definitions above. Marijuana is not hemp.

Instances where you’re prohibited from using CBD:

-If the policy prohibits all cannabinoids (CBD is a cannabinoid)

-If the policy prohibits all hemp products since CBD is made from hemp

-And, obviously if they specifically prohibit CBD

A grey area:

Some contracts will state something like “the use of cannabis products are prohibited”. The reason this can be tricky is because some states, like Florida, have changed the definition of what hemp and cannabis are.

If your laws are written so that hemp isn’t considered cannabis, then taking a “cannabis product” like CBD isn’t a problem.

Just to reiterate, this is something you should bring to the attention of the attorneys in charge of overseeing your policy.

If you got something out of this article please share with the guys and girls at the firehouse! The only way we can bring this awesome natural compound into the fire service is if we learn about it and talk about it.

As always, please reach out if we can help in any way possible. Feel free to contact us or fill out the form below if you’d like to have some informal consultation on bringing CBD into your fire department.