Should hemp farmers be allowed to utilise the whole plant?

30th December 2021

With the CBD industry booming, and the introduction of new regulations having increased the credibility of the brands that are here to stay, the UK’s policies around hemp cultivation are continuing to cause controversy among campaigners, farmers, and the general public.

A YouGov survey commissioned in 2019 revealed that the majority of CBD users in the UK believe that the restrictions currently placed on hemp farmers should be loosened.

The survey found that three-quarters of respondents believe that restrictions should be lifted on the cultivation of flowers and leaves of hemp crops. Under current UK law, hemp farmers are only allowed to harvest the seeds from the crop with a Home Office license.

The Rules

Hemp is a strain of the Cannabis Sativa plant, which contains only trace levels of THC. (THC is the psychoactive drug that causes the ‘high’ feeling in marijuana). The farming of the crop is legal in the UK, but growers must apply for a license from the Home Office.

In the UK, hemp is allowed to be grown “for production of non-controlled hemp products from fibre and seeds only”. However, the high-CBD leaves and flowers of the plant must be destroyed.

The restrictions which apply to the process are believed to significantly limit the profitability of the industry.

The British Hemp Association commented:

“The scale of opportunity for hemp’s numerous industrial applications is considerable and global. [There are] major societal and economic benefits possible for the UK.”

As the CBD (cannabidiol) industry in the UK continues to grow, the UK hemp industry remains surprisingly small. This has led to the outsourcing of CBD from elsewhere in Europe, where guidelines for hemp cultivation are less restrictive.

The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) also highlights the need for reforms to the hemp farming rules. In their report, “CBD in the UK”, they suggest that it could add to the confusion around the legality of CBD products in the UK. They also express concern over the viability of the Hemp industry if the restrictions continue:

“The hemp industry is not financially viable in the UK long-term unless it can compete on a level playing field with other hemp producers.”

A recent report by the government’s Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) this year highlighted that dichotomy that, despite the UK seeing a fast-growing, legal consumer market for “medicinal CBD for a range of pain and neurological conditions”, current Home Office regulation makes it impossible for these products to be produced in the UK.

Among the recommendations made by the authors of the report, it is suggested that the government should “move the licensing regime for cannabinoid pharmaceutical research and CBD over-the-counter medicines from the Home Office to the DHSC/MHRA, and “create a regulatory pathway for approving these products using an evidence-based assessment of their medicinal effects.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is legal in the UK and is sold in a range of forms. However, the majority of CBD products and raw materials are imported from elsewhere.

Hemp seeds do contain CBD however, the concentration is significantly lower than in the flowers and leaves. Oil produced from the Hemp seeds is classified as Hemp oil, not CBD oil, because of this difference.

Where is it allowed?

The cultivation of the whole plant is legal in the USA and many countries in Europe. The law was changed in Canada to allow the harvest of flowers and leaves at the beginning of 2019. Before this, the leaves and flowers were disposed of. This is what is still happening in the UK.

The cultivation of the whole flower is also permitted in a large number of European countries. Despite being one of the largest markets in Europe, most CBD products in the UK are sourced from elsewhere.

Despite having surprising historical significance in the UK, the Hemp farming industry is still bound by legislation derived from laws made in the 1960s. The calls for change to the industry come among a major review of the CBD industry in the UK.

You can learn more about the difference between Hemp and CBD oil, here.

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