Ep002 – All About Hemp: Meet Hempen, the BHA & EIHA Hemp Associations

Ep002 Hempen Photo

In this episode we discuss all things hemp. I talk to Patrick Gillett from the co-operative Hempen, Rebekah Shaman, chair of the British Hemp Association (BHA) and Lorenzo Romanese, director of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA).

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HEMPEN – Patrick Gillet – Co-founder

Hemp farmers don’t have a particularly easy ride in the UK and Hempen are no exception. Facing recent issues with their Home Office hemp licence, Patrick took time out to explain the history of the cooperative and shared some challenges UK hemp farmers currently face.

Thanks for joining me today Patrick. Can you tell me a little bit about Hempen does?

Hempen is a not for profit, farm to fork, grower and producer. We are a co-operative. We produce food products out of seed, and we produce cosmetics. In July 2019 we received the unexpected and shocking news that we wouldn’t have our license renewed to grow hemp which we applied for to grow from seed to stalk as allowed under the current framework.

Prior to this, in previous years we informed the Home Office that we’ve been harvesting Flowers for CBD production as an essential oil and we never had any problems or warnings about that. We took that as implicit consent for 3 years as we were telling them the same thing every year in big capital letters and not hearing anything back. However, after our last harvest in 2018 the government changed the guidance and made it very clear that we could not do that.

In December (when we applied to renew) we didn’t apply for anything to do with Flowers. It’s a process that should take 2 to 4 weeks, maybe 2 months at worst – but it took 8 months. By which time we were mid-way through the growing season and unfortunately to avoid prosecution for the cultivation of cannabis we had to destroy a very healthy, 40 acre crop.

That crop is worth about £200,000 in seed and stalk products to us, but if we’d been allowed to harvest them for Flowers to make CBD products it would have been worth £2.4 million pounds.

At Hempen you work as a co-operative. Can you tell me what goes on there on a day to day basis?

We work on a not for profit basis and we’re also a community built around the cooperative business. Many of us live on the farm together and many more live around the farm and on the same estate. It’s a real community.

We like to think of it as a holistic business. We’re not just turning out a product for some profit. In fact, all the surplus revenue we raise goes back into the business, back into building the community. We’re non-hierarchical, so we make all major decisions by consensus of the whole co-up and we’re all paid an equal wage for our time, so we try to organise in that way.

We have launched a campaign ‘Save UK CBD’ because it’s apparent that the current framework won’t allow UK growers to produce CBD from any hemp grown in the UK.

Patrick Gillett – Hempen – Co-founder

One of the things we’re going to be asking as part of our legal challenge to the situation is, why different farmers treated so differently in the UK at the moment?

One of the things we’re going to be asking as part of our legal challenge to the situation is, why different farmers treated so differently in the UK at the moment?

There seems to be a messy and irregular licensing programme and the only people who have got a licence that will allow them to do what we were doing is GW Pharmaceuticals, who are obviously a major Corporation.

No one else seems to be able to produce UK grown CBD right now. Is that a deliberate policy or is it just a result of the regulatory framework which has not caught up with the new market and is not really to realise the incredible economic and ecological opportunity of that market.

What you’re saying is that there is one company in the UK that have got this license to harvest bud and flower, GW Pharmaceuticals. They’re allowed to do it but you’re not?

GW pharma licence medicinal cannabis which is a different category of law altogether. It seems that they would be the only growers in the country that could even produce a zero THC UK grown product under their specific licence.

The CBD industry is said to be worth £1 billion by 2025. All that money will go to hemp grown abroad except I suppose the medicinal CBD and THC products produced by GW pharma.

Here’s a crop, industrial hemp, which can do so many different things and the key to unlocking it is allowing farmers to realise the value of the Flowers.

Instead they must chop those Flowers heads off and leave them to rot in the field. Leave millions of pounds to rot in their fields whilst they eke out a living from seed and stalk.

I read a couple of weeks ago that in Jersey some hemp farmers were granted an extension of this licence to be able to harvest Bud and flower?

It’s a very hopeful story in Jersey. They’ve got a slightly separate legal system to the UK and so they have a bit of autonomy on that. They’ve simply tweaked their law and amended it slightly to go back to what it was in the UK pre 2000. This means the farmers can harvest the whole plant and all parts of that plant rather than having to throw away some of it.

If you want to sell CBD in the UK most people are turning to Europe because they’re able to harvest the bud and flower?

What we want to do with our campaign SaveUKCBD.org is ask the home office: What’s the public interest in this policy? We can’t see any, you haven’t offered any arguments. If there is something we’re missing and there’s a very good reason for it, please do share it because that will help us relax about this situation.

I think government sees hemp farming as just a problem to be regulated in the drugs and firearms unit of the Home Office, rather than an amazing ecological and economic opportunity.

Patrick Gillette – Hempen – Co-founder

They can demonstrate their support for by regulating it in the department for the environment farming and rural affairs (DEFRA). If it was in that department, hemp would be treated like an agricultural crop and an opportunity to be realised.

There is no reason for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to stop CD sales in the UK. We know it’s safe.

More info: hempen.co.uk and saveukcbd.org     

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British Hemp Association (BHA) – Rebekah Shaman – Chair

In this next segment I meet Rebekah Shaman. Educator and chair of the British Hemp Association. In the interview Rebekah shares some of her views on protecting hemp, the challenges UK hemp farmers face, as well as the key aims of the British Hemp Association.

I set up the British Hemp Association (BHA) in 2017 with two farmers – Hempen and Vitality hemp. We came together and decided that we needed to protect the plant, to create a voice for the industry and to educate, lobby and connect.

Here in the UK, if you want to grow hemp you have to go through the home office and get a home office license. This is because hemp is considered a controlled substance because it contains THC. You are not allowed to process the leaf or the flower.

This then gives us only the option to utilise the stalk and seeds, which unfortunately doesn’t hold a lot of the profits. Most of the profit is in the flower and the leaf.

The aim of the BHA is first and foremost to remove hemp from the home office control and put it back into DEFRA (which is our department for the environment, food and farming). This would allow for it to be an agricultural industrial crop, so we can start to utilise it for purposes other than what it has been – which is a controlled substance.

Hemp has 25,000 uses, many of which are uses that you don’t consume. Classifying it as a controlled substance when you’re making plastics, paper or building from it makes no sense.

Rebekah Shaman – British Hemp Association – Chair

The second aim of the BHA in what we really want to do is to be able to harvest the leaf and the flower. Right now, CBD is sold all over England. You can walk down any high street and buy it, but our farmers can’t grow it!

It is stipulated in the Home Office licence that if you want to grow hemp you have to destroy the flower and leaf. This makes for a totally unfair marketplace considering that UK is one of the biggest consumers of CBD.

What we really want to do is to allow UK farmers to utilise the whole plant from the flower down to the roots, without any difficulties, and to be able to have our own CBD markets in the UK. Rather than allowing imports to come in from countries which are allowing the processing of the flower.

And the 3rd is the THC levels. Ideally, we’d like to up the THC levels to make a healthier plant and give us more options to utilise the plant. 1% THC is still too low to have any psychoactive impact.  In fact, Turmeric has more impact at 1% than THC.

We’ve seen in the United States since the farm bill of 2018 a huge leap of innovation, technology and R&D going into hemp. The UK is missing out on the potential of this amazing plant.

If you’re taking whole plant extract you must have THC in it. It’s not just one molecule of that plant, it’s what the plant offers in its entirety. That’s why it’s an entourage effect with hemp. So what we’re seeing is that traditionally you took one aspect of it like THC or DMT (or whatever molecule) and isolating it and removing it. But hemp is in entirety a plant of health and well-being.

It’s not just CBD, is not just CBN, or CBG and all the terpenes. What we really want is whole plant medicine so people can ingest the whole plant.

By extracting and taking THC out, you’re losing a lot of the goodness the supplement can give you.

Rebekah Shaman – British Hemp Association – Chair

We’ve got a situation in the UK of a more liberal approach and attitude towards CBD. Do you feel this now means the doors are opening in a positive direction, or do you have concerns about the way things may go?

Oh yeah definitely, that’s why we set up the BHA. Now that ‘the genie is out of the bottle’ regarding the potential of hemp, the commodities it can create, the medicine it can provide…my fear is that the cottage industry that’s been supporting hemp all these years will be just ripped away.

It’s why the British Association was set up. To ignite, bring together, connect and be a voice for hemp and for the industry. To remove all these political shackles. To stop the hypocrisy and give the industry a chance to thrive on his own merits.

I mean loads of people want to get involved with hemp. There’s a big interest in hemp. The consumers want it. The problem is that the government is not giving us an opportunity to get out there and make it happen.

You’ve got your crystal ball in front of you and you’re gazing into it…in 3-5 years’, time what do you see changing?

Hemp is now in DEFRA. Its an agricultural crop. It has all the subsidies and support of an agricultural crop. You see loads of farmers using it as a break crop. It’s taking over rape seed oil and everyone is now growing hemp. There are several ways it could go: Farms doing small plastics, or graphene, a lot of different products and UK farmers growing for CBD.

And for us to be able to utilise the whole hemp plant from the flower down to the roots. Creating jobs, creating revenue, R&D and technology and seeing a thriving industry here in the UK. Viva la hemp!

More info: britishhempassociation.co.uk

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European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) – Lorenza Romanese – Director

Next up I chat to Lorenza from the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) which represents both farmers and processing companies across Europe. EIHA also lobby to bring about changes in European law. Here’s Lorenza.

So basically, we have 2 pillars within EIHA. We have the farmers and the processing companies and we are trying to do the best to secure the policies that concern these 2 pillars. We are active from the seed to the shelf.

In the UK we have issues with farmers not being to use hemp bud and flowers, they can only use the seed and stalk – how does it work in other European countries?

Unfortunately, it’s the same! It’s a common problem in Europe. It’s the same in my own country Italy. Flower must be treated as waste. That is why we are advocating to ‘unlock the flower’.

Put simply, what we want is the whole plant because with the whole plant we can do so much benefit for the environment, for the country, for the consumers. But it’s so stupid, for the moment we cannot touch the flowers – so we are working on that. We need to deal with United Nations convention. We need to change old and outdated laws.

Imagine that if you’re a farmer and you plant for fibres you can earn up to 1000 euro. If you are a farmer and you can use the flower, your value for one hectare can go up to 4000 euros. We need the flower. I want that the Flowers can be an extra income for my farmers.

Lorenza Romanese – European Industrial Hemp Association – Director

Within EIHA we have an Advisory Board that help us to understand the plant, to understand the process, the chemical process and all this stuff. We produce a valuable document that we share with the European Commission. They are keen to work with us because they need that information, they don’t have information and that’s why its regulated so badly.

Sadly, in Europe we have the United Nations Convention of 1961 and in this text, it scheduled the Flower as a Scheduled 1 drug. All the problems come from the United Nations single convention of 1961 and that we need to change.

What do you think will happen within Europe in respect to hemp in the next 5 years?

Probably I am too positive, but I deeply believe that we will succeed. We want people to feel better, thanks to hemp extract – the planet where we live to feel better too.

Plant hemp and help the soil. We just want hemp back in our culture, back in agriculture, because it can make an impact on the environment.

We are not the solution, we are part of the solution.

More info: EIHA.org