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Is Hemp Legal in the UK? [EXPLAINED]

Green Shoppers Writen by Green Shoppers
January 4, 2019

The cannabidiol industry is a legal minefield as it is, without even having to consider the status of the plant it comes from. Everybody knows that cannabis is illegal in Great Britain, but most people don’t understand the distinction between hemp and marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana both belong to the Cannabis genus of plants, but they do differ slightly. Unfortunately, the genus as a whole is classified as a controlled substance in this country, and this is where the complications come in. Marijuana is awarded a more tightly controlled status than its hemp counterpart – but why?

In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about hemp and whether it is legal in the UK. That way, you can feel a little bit better about purchasing CBD products that state they are made from hemp?

What Actually is Hemp?

Hemp is a member of the Cannabis sativa family, meaning it belongs to the same genus of plants as marijuana! There is a lot of confusion about the differences between the two, which is why both types of plant were made controlled substances back in the 1970s. While marijuana is known for its ability to get people high, hemp does not actually possess this trait.

By definition, hemp contains less than 0.3% THC per dry weight. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active compound in cannabis plants that produces psychoactive effects. It isn’t the only active compound in there, as there are estimated to be over 100 cannabinoids! THC is one of the most abundant, alongside CBD. Cannabidiol (CBD) is becoming much more accepted, as it is now recognised that it produces no intoxicating effects whatsoever. Unlike THC, it is still abundant in hemp plants. This is great news, as hemp is not only non-intoxicating, but it is thought to have some wonderful benefits.

There are some other key differences between hemp and marijuana. Hemp, first off, looks different. It has thinner leaves concentrated at the top of the plant, and overall the plant is skinnier and taller than its counterpart. Hemp can actually grow up to 20 feet tall! Furthermore, hemp can be grown very close together thanks to its narrowness, whereas marijuana plants need to be cultivated further apart. Marijuana growers have to carefully control the environment, or the marijuana will die extremely quickly. Hemp, on the other hand, is hardy and can survive pretty much anywhere.

It is a hyper-accumulator, meaning that it sucks up almost anything it can get from the soil. As a result, hemp cultivators need to be careful about where they grow it – if they grow it in contaminated soil, the hemp will absorb all the toxins and won’t be safe to consume! This is good news for farmers of other crops, though, because they can grow hemp plants nearby to ensure that the soil remains clean. In fact, it was proposed to plant hemp plants at Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster in order to clean up the soil!

While hemp is amazing for consumption (which we will discuss more in the next section), it also has many other uses. The fibrous stalks are ideal for creating textiles and even building materials. It can even be used to make paper! Hemp is an extremely versatile plant, which is why it’s quite sad that it is classified as a controlled substance.

The Health Benefits of Hemp

While the leaves and stalks of hemp are more likely to be used in textiles, the seeds are incredibly nutritious. Many people consider hempseeds to be a superfood because they are so packed full of goodness. Although the seeds contain very low amounts of cannabinoids, they are still good for you thanks to the rest of their contents.

Here are some of the health benefits:

  • Protein: In every 30g of hemp seeds (around 1 tablespoon), there are 9.46g of protein. They are considered a “complete” protein source, meaning that they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are growing in popularity as a healthier and more environmentally-friendly alternative to animal proteins, but few plant proteins contain all 9 amino acids. Hempseeds are, in this way, a superior form of plant protein that makes them an incredible addition to your diet.
  • Unsaturated fats: It is generally considered that unsaturated fats are healthier than their saturated counterparts. We need omega fatty acids in our diet in order to survive and remain healthy, and hemp contains both omega-3 and omega-6.
  • Fibre: Hempseeds can be quite fibrous if you buy the right ones. ‘Hemp hearts’ refer to deshelled hempseeds, but these won’t contain much fibre as most lies in the outer shell. If you are looking to add more fibre into your diet, purchase hempseeds that still have their hulls.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Hempseeds contain a huge array of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and B vitamins.

All of these components do different things for your health, including boosting your heart health, improving your skin, and protecting the brain. You can eat hempseeds, buy hempseed oil, or even purchase hemp milk to get these benefits.

Is Hemp Legal to Grow in the UK?

All the way back in 1533, King Henry VIII made it compulsory by law to grow hemp. For every 60 acres of farmland, cultivators had to grown ¼ acre of flax or hemp, or else they would be in breach of the law. This was because of the incredible nutritional value of hemp, as well as its numerous other uses.

Sadly, hemp became too closely associated with marijuana, and confusion between the two plants has led to illegality. It is now only legal to grow under certain conditions.

To grow hemp in the United Kingdom, you have to obtain a license from the Home Office. A new license costs £580, and a renewal costs £326, so it’s no wonder that few people actually have one! Furthermore, people applying for this license must undergo a Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) to check that they are eligible for a license.

There are also several restrictions that apply. A compliance visit may be necessary, and the Home Office may impose restrictions on where you can plant the crop. For example, hemp is generally not allowed near schools or areas of public access.

Growers who are in possession of a hemp growing license must inform the local police about where the hemp is being grown. Any changes to the growing season or planting location of the crop must be passed on to the Home Office immediately.

Currently, there is no more than 810 hectares of hemp grown in the UK. Organisations like the British Hemp Association are working to change that, recognising just how useful the crop can be. It’s impossible to know whether hemp will be made legal in the UK ever again, but it’s not an impossibility.

So, Where Does CBD Oil Come From?

If you have heard about CBD oil and that it comes from hemp, you might now be wondering where it comes from considering that hemp is not 100% legal to grow. Most CBD manufacturers based in the UK import their hemp from farms in Europe. It is often the case that growers still require a license to cultivate hemp, but manufacturers often weigh up the cost of paying for their own farms here in the UK or importing hemp from abroad.

Regardless of where in the world it comes from, the CBD oil you see being sold in the UK will certainly be derived from hemp and not marijuana. Although the two plants are often muddled up, hemp is generally given more of a pass than marijuana is. Since it contains so little THC, manufacturers have to produce their CBD products from this plant – the legal limit for THC in Great Britain is 0.2%. This can only really be achieved by producing the products from hemp.

Final Thoughts on Hemp in the UK

To answer the titular question: Hemp is sort of legal in the UK. Growers can only cultivate the crop with a license, but as long as the requirements are met then it is legal to do so.

Hemp has endured a long history in Britain and the world over, and it appears to be making somewhat of a comeback. With any luck, in the future more and more hemp will be produced in the UK, possibly making it cheaper to produce homegrown CBD products. The popularity of such products is sharply rising, and so it’s not too optimistic to think that hemp might finally become more accepted by the government and undergo a change of status.