Pleasant Lands: Policy Oversight Forcing British Farmers to “Burn” Hundreds of Millions Worth of CBD

by Ant Lehane


Pleasant Lands is available now, via this link. 

A new report coordinated by third sector drug policy reform organisation Volteface has today been released, promising a solution to ‘draconian, pointless’ hemp legislation. The report has been written with leading licensing barrister of Francis Taylor Gary Grant, leading cannabis solicitor, Rob Jappie of Ince, and Lily Temperton of cannabis consultancy Hanway Associates.

The paper, which has been backed by Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, outlines the economic and environmental benefits of embracing hemp, by promising to boost the ‘the government’s promised green recovery and kick start the economic bounce back by boosters coffers’ to the Treasuries much depleted finances. The British CBD market, the concentrated oil which is extracted from hemp flower, is currently worth £300million with estimates valuing the market at around £1billion by 2025.

In the last few weeks DEFRA Minister Victoria Prentis has discussed solutions to hemp policy, whilst George Freeman MP has championed hemp reform and investment as part of the Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulation.

The report calls for a model which imitates the Swiss model whereby farmers can grow crops up to 1% THC, and streamlining licencing to allow for farmers to extract CBD from the whole hemp plant, with basic licences only currently permitting the extraction of stalks and seeds.

Under current legislation farmers are forced to burn up to 80% of the crop, including the flower, the most valuable and CBD-rich part of the hemp plant. Hemp and extracted CBD are non-psychotropic but the policy is tied up with costly and bureaucratic licencing which make the crop financially impossible to benefit from. CBD is available on the shelves of major retailers including Holland & Barrett and Boots, but UK farmers are unable to extract CBD from hemp flower due to a UK Home Office policy requiring its destruction, leaving the UK reliant on imports. Many European countries permit the sale of hemp flower and its extraction for CBD, placing our farmers at an unfair disadvantage. CBD is classed as a novel food, not a narcotic – but British farmers are stuck in a paradoxical situation which means they are losing out on the ability to supply the thriving consumer CBD market.

The issue is linked to EU-policy and subsidies which the UK are moving away from. The vast majority of CBD on offer in shelves of UK wellness shops is imported from Switzerland. Switzerland, not bound by the EEA, is the only European country that allows a threshold of 1% THC whilst the EU has a threshold of 0.2%*. Leaving the EU opens an opportunity for the UK to imitate the Swiss guidance, and allow British farmers to cash in now legal sovereignty lies with the union and not the EU. 

The move would help to demonstrate legislative sovereignty after leaving the EU and could open up Britain to be a medical cannabis and CBD leader in Europe, with cannabis companies recently being green-lit to list on the London Stock Exchange for the first time.

The Pleasant Lands report proposes a simple policy amendment, enacted by a letter from the relevant Secretary of State, which would ‘unlock the nascent hemp and CBD industry’ – a growth industry potentially worth billions of pounds to British farmers. Volteface highlights that encouraging British farmers to grow the niche crop would create a number of rural skilled and low-skilled jobs which would level up prosperity in rural communities – a pledge that the government is under pressure to deliver on. 

Hemp as a building material should also be championed as part of a pledge to build back better, using British grown hemp materials that are net carbon zero.

*EU CBD limit will be rising from 0.2% to 0.3% pending approval, though this is of no benefit to farmers.

Louise Motala, Managing Director, Bridge Farm: This is a high growth sector, yet all the CBD in consumer products sold in the UK is imported and produced to varying quality standards.  It is hard to comprehend, especially in a post Brexit era, why it is legal to import CBD into the UK, yet British businesses are not permitted to produce CBD commercially. 

We have real expertise in cultivation and extraction in this country, a change in policy to open up this valuable market and allow production will enable UK businesses to make the most of this global opportunity.

Licensed production at our state of the art glasshouse which spans 70 acres would provide opportunities to substitute current imports with domestically produced, high quality CBD that has been regulated to UK standards.  This would contribute to the UK economy and importantly, our local Lincolnshire economy, creating jobs and investment in this rural community.


Rob Jappie, Partner at Ince Gordon Dadds, said: We urge the UK Home Office to grasp this opportunity to make hemp cultivation, along with utilisation of the entirety of the plant, a central part of British agricultural policy.  Doing so would empower British farmers, boost the UK economy, and protect the environment. There are no downsides here, and we hope that the recommendations in our report will be given serious consideration.

Paul North, Director of Volteface, said: It is embarrassing that the UK has an industry which is currently worth £300 million, but British farmers are not benefiting from it. The CBD market must be embraced, and British cultivation would provide the UK a major growth industry to help the UK bounce back during the Covid recovery. Let’s back British farmers and make changes to this pointless, draconian situation.

Lily Temperton, Hanways Associates, said: The current regulation of hemp in the UK prevents economic growth and limits commercial prospects for UK companies. Embracing the high value crop by widening its permitted uses will create new jobs and infrastructure, boost the economy and allow UK farmers and businesses to compete with their European counterparts.

Crispin Blunt MP: HMG has asked the ACMD for policy recommendations on cannabinoids; shortcomings in current policy had been the result of gaps in cannabinoid-related knowledge. Such a gap in relation to hemp cultivation has been addressed with the publication of VolteFace’s “Pleasant Lands” report.  People in the UK, as elsewhere, deserve safe access to first-rate CBD products. There is no reason why Britain should not produce them, to at least as high a standard as anywhere else.  

Consumer demand for full-spectrum CBD products has soared from 2018 as evidence  grows. This has shown no sign of abating. This demand will be fulfilled by imports, unless British farmers, currently compelled by outdated legislation to throw away most of the value of the crop, are released to meet demand. The U.K. needs to learn from the US, Switzerland and even closer to home, Jersey, to reap the benefits of domestic full-spectrum production of hemp-derived CBD. Our burgeoning cannabinoid industry, when anticipating support by policy based on evidence, was predicted to grow to £1 billion by 2025.  That policy post Brexit is in our gift. If current rules don’t change the only extra people getting high will be our competitors.

Steve Barron, Owner of Margent Farm and former Film Director: At Margent Farm we’re raising awareness to show the benefits of growing hemp. Including building our own farmhouse from the crop’s fibres. Frustratingly current legislation allows us, under license, to grow hemp for seed or fibre but we must destroy our leaves and flowers and not process for valuable, in-demand CBD oil. Yet we can then purchase this CBD from Europe and beyond! Last year the value of the CBD that would have been extracted from the part of the plant we had to dump was at least £80,000. How crazy is that? For everyone including the treasury.

Restricting its full potential makes it much less desirable for our farmers to grow one of the most environmentally friendly and versatile crops on the planet. Hemp can be used to strengthen our topsoil, to reduce plastics in our seas, to sequester an inordinate amount of carbon from the atmosphere, and provide nutrition for us all. The legislation is backward thinking and out-dated. It comes from a different time when fear and ignorance demonised all the strains of hemp. Hemp will save the world. If we let it.  

Environmental Benefits of Hemp

Despite its recent connotations attached to its psychotropic cousin cannabis, hemp has a historic past with the United Kingdom with a rich history. Henry VIII famously enshrined hemp cultivation into law by forcing landowners to grow a quarter of an acre for every 60 acres of land owned.

Hemp’s eco-credentials could provide the government with a major boost to the green recovery pledged by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, too. Hemp is a net carbon zero, sometimes negative, alternative building material which can be used as a non-toxic insulator for building houses. Recent estimates say that every house built with ‘hempcrete’ as opposed to traditional building materials would save around 55 tonnes of hemp per average size house built.

Hemp is a more effective sequester of carbon dioxide than trees with one hectare of industrial hemp able to absorb 15 tonnes of CO2 per hectare.

Economic Benefits of British Hemp for British Farmers

Brexit voting British farmers are desperate for new profitable crops to grow, with the industry that was recently propped up by EU subsidies struggling due a decrease in exports, the pandemic and a lack of support from the government.

A simple written request – a statutory instrument – from relevant Secretary of State Priti Patel, alongside government backed investment could allow the UK to steal a march on the EU and enact changes that would line the pockets of British farmers, and in turn much needed tax revenue from an industry that is forecasted major growth over the next four years.

The current set up gifts a significant competitive advantage to international companies that operate within more rational regulatory frameworks. Legal and policy experts agree that these changes would enable UK businesses big and small to benefit our future national economy in a way that is just, rational and fair.

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