Home Office urged to back down on hemp rules

THE NFU is urging the Home Office to ‘back down’ on the introduction of licence fees, linked to UK drugs legislation, for hemp growers

The union claims licence fees due to come in under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) on November 15 will penalise all industrial hemp growers in the UK.

The fee for a licence for first-time applicants will be £580, while the annual renew cost will be £326 for most growers. However, where a compliance visit is required – the Home Office estimates this will apply to 10 per cent of the ‘higher risk’ growers – the renewal cost will rise to £1,371.    

The NFU said the fees were being brought in without consultation with the industry and risk ‘killing off the shoots of a re-emerging green industry’.

It added that the licences, introduced last year, duplicate existing control and monitoring of industrial hemp by Defra and the Rural Payments Agency.

It said the licensing system was a product of legislation aimed at controlling the misuse of harmful narcotic substances, and was ‘inappropriate’ for the production of industrial hemp, which contains ‘negligible levels’ of the main psychoactive chemical compound Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) used in cannabis.

Industrial hemp is not regulated in this way in any other European country.

NFU vice president Gwyn Jones said: “The NFU has been working hard to ensure the difficulties from the change in the licensing regime introduced last year are understood by the Home Office and removed in order to prevent damage to the developing renewable materials industry.

“These licence fees are now potentially the bale of straw that will break the industry’s back. We are urging the Home Office to review this situation and to remove industrial hemp from the MDA as the regulation is not only costly to Government and farmers but is doubling up on existing controls with no clear justification for its existence.”

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA 1971), all cannabis varieties, including industrial hemp, are controlled as a Class B drug. No distinction is made between cannabis with high levels of the main psychoactive chemical compound and industrial hemp.

The Home Office said the fee for industrial hemp were ‘significantly cheaper’ than the £4,700 for a licence to cultivate higher-THC strains of cannabis plants.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We have re-introduced fees for controlled drug licences to fund improvements to the service for those who grow controlled drugs for industrial purposes. This measure, which follows a public consultation, will help ensure that licensed drugs are not subject to any kind of abuse.

“The money from the fees will help to improve application times, and quality of service to all licensees. Fees are charged on a full cost recovery basis.

“We have been working with the NFU and other interested parties to ensure that, where a licensing regime has to be applied, the regulatory burden is minimised. We remain committed to this.”

The majority of industrial hemp growers are located in East Anglia, where the main processing plant is located. Uses range from the revival of traditional uses in food and textiles to the construction, material and chemical industries.

Defra and DECC support the use of industrial hemp in green technologies, such as for renewable low carbon construction material, the NFU said.  

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