U.K. Eases Restrictions on Hemp Agriculture

April 12, 2024 · High Times

The government of the United Kingdom has approved changes to the rules governing industrial hemp licenses designed to make it easier for farmers to grow the crop. The new regulations will support regulated farmers who grow hemp and encourage new investment in the industry while continuing to discourage illegal drug uses of the plant, government officials said this week.

In the U.K., industrial hemp (cannabis with less than 0.2% THC) can be legally grown outdoors by licensed farmers for the production of fiber and seed. Under the current rules, initial hemp cultivation licenses are issued for three growing seasons for a fee of £580 (about $727). License renewals cost £326 (approximately $409) and are also good for three years.

Under the new rules, which are slated to go into effect for the 2025 growing season, the length of time a hemp license is valid will be extended to six years. The amended regulations also allow farmers to apply for a hemp cultivation license with a deferred start date of up to one year, giving new growers more time to prepare for the new crop.

The new rules, which were developed in collaboration with experienced hemp growers, will also allow farmers to grow hemp anywhere on a licensed farm instead of limiting production to specific parcels of land. The change will give growers more flexibility in managing their operations and allow them to implement hemp into a crop rotation plan for their farms.

A Sustainable Crop for U.K. Farmers

The number of licensed hemp growers in the U.K. has increased significantly over the past 10 years, from only six in 2013 to 136 in 2023. Farming Minister Mark Spencer said in a statement that the new rules will give British farmers more opportunities to succeed by growing hemp.

“Industrial hemp has huge potential across the UK to unlock new revenue streams, expand our bioeconomy without permanently removing land from food production, and bring wider environmental benefits,” said Spencer, according to a report from FarmingUK.

“The licensing changes recognize industrial hemp as a field-grown agricultural crop and will enable more farmers to add hemp to their crop rotations,” he added.

Industrial hemp licenses do not allow farmers to utilize hemp flowers or leaves. Growers who wish to do so can obtain cannabis cultivation licenses, which allow for the indoor production of the plant for medicinal purposes. The dual licensing scheme is designed to allow for the cultivation of cannabis and hemp for permitted purposes while preventing drug misuse and protecting public safety.

“This government will always seek to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on businesses so that they can flourish and grow,” said Chris Philp, minister for crime and policing, the Farmers Guide reported on Wednesday. “The changes outlined today will help farmers and manufacturers in the UK to fully realize the economic potential offered through the safe and legal cultivation of hemp.”

The adoption of the new rules was supported by groups including the National Farmers Union (NFU). Jamie Burrows, chair of the NFU Combinable Crops Board, said in a statement that hemp agriculture can benefit farmers and the environment.

“It is one of the most sustainable crops farmers can grow, is a really good crop for capturing carbon from the atmosphere, has little to no input requirements and also has the ability to diversify farming businesses and crop rotations, especially when other break crops like oilseed rape are becoming more difficult for British farmers to grow due to increased pest pressure,” Burrows said this week.

The U.K. government has also requested that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs provide guidance on whether the permissible amount of THC in industrial hemp can be raised from 0.2% to 0.3%, the standard in the United States, Canada, China and the European Union. 

The government also noted that it expects the nation’s police to continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to cannabis possession. Under U.K. drug laws, possession of cannabis can be punished by a fine and jail sentence of up to five years, with harsher sentences of up to 14 years behind bars for cannabis distribution convictions. (Full Story)

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