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Hemp licensing changes will help grow UK economy Published Date: 15/04/2024

Changes to industrial hemp licensing will support regulated farmers to grow hemp and encourage investment in the industry, while continuing to protect the public from drug misuse.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis containing less than 0.2% THC. It has a number of lawful purposes, for example in construction and textiles and could potentially impact climate change through carbon capture.

To make sure this is only grown for strictly legal purposes, farmers who wish to grow hemp must have a licence, balancing the government’s support for farmers with the need to protect the public from drug misuse.

Under the planned changes, licence holders will be able to grow hemp anywhere on a licensed farm and the maximum period for a licence will be extended from three to six years, subject to compliance with the terms of the licence.

The proposals, which have been developed in collaboration with experienced growers, include an option to apply for a licence with a deferred start date by up to one year. These changes are planned to come into effect for the 2025 growing season.

The government has also asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide advice on whether the THC permissible in industrial hemp varieties could be safely raised to 0.3%.

The changes will not affect the robust laws in place regarding the control of cannabis, which is a Class B controlled drug under Part 2 of Schedule 2 in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. People will therefore not be able to use these changes to avoid being charged with possession or supply of cannabis.

The government expects the police to continue to take a robust zero-tolerance approach to cannabis possession, which is a criminal offence and should be enforced. Possession of cannabis carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both, and supply of cannabis carries a maximum sentence of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.

Chris Philp, Minister for Crime and Policing said:

This government will always seek to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on businesses so that they can flourish and grow. 

The changes outlined today will help farmers and manufacturers in the UK to fully realise the economic potential offered through the safe and legal cultivation of hemp.

Farming Minister Mark Spencer said:

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. 

The licensing changes announced today recognise industrial hemp as a field-grown agricultural crop and will enable more farmers to add hemp to their crop rotations, sequester carbon, and sell their harvest to the textile and construction industries.

Hemp can only be cultivated outdoors under the Home Office’s “industrial hemp” licensing regime for the purposes of fibre and seed production. Growers who wish to use the controlled parts of the plant (the leaves, flowers) for lawful purposes, including the production of pharmaceuticals such as cannabis-based products for medicinal use, can do so under a standard cannabis cultivation licence.

The number of hemp licences has grown from six in 2013 to 136 hemp licences in 2023. A first-time licence costs £580. Licences are issued for three growing seasons. Repeat growers currently pay £326 for a licence, less than £109 per year.