Jamie Bartley is CEO of Unyte Capital, Executive Chair of the recently-launched Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) and Chair of its Hemp sub-group.
Mr Bartley and his fellow committee members are working to drive meaningful change politically and commercially within the industrial hemp sector.
Writing exclusively for BusinessCann, he elaborates on the Hemp sub-group’s plans and the key role industrial hemp can play in helping the UK meet its renewable energy, carbon footprint, economic and environmental targets.
HEMP is one of the oldest cultivated plants on Earth.
Archaeologists working in what is modern day Iran and Iraq, have found remnants of hemp cloth dating back 10,000 years, and until the last century it was still widely grown as both a food and a fibre.
But everything changed in 1928 when cannabis use was prohibited in the UK. Other nations followed suit. For decades the law didn’t differentiate between hemp – which can’t get you high – and other types of cannabis.
It was only in 1993 that Britain – with stringent restrictions – legalised the growing of hemp for industrial use.
No exaggeration to describe hemp as a ‘miracle crop’
Nearly 30 years on and many consumers, politicians and businesses are still suspicious of hemp, an unfortunate throwback to the prohibition era when cannabis was viewed by its opponents as a dangerous opioid and a threat to the finely balanced social order.
Yet hemp – which unlike cannabis contains very low levels of THC and is therefore non-psychoactive – is one of the most versatile crops in existence. Not only can you eat it, but you can wear, build, paint and drive with it.
It’s also environmentally friendly. It can absorb 25 times the amount of CO2 that a forest would. Figures for the 2021 growing season here in the UK show that of the 4,923 acres licensed to grow industrial hemp, just over 2,592 have been cultivated, removing 20,982 tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.
In the 120-day growth cycle of a hemp crop, the same size forest would take 25 years to isolate the equivalent amount of carbon.
It’s no exaggeration to describe hemp as a ‘miracle crop,’ and it’s one I and many others believe we should be growing more of and making it easier for farmers and other interested parties to get involved with.
It’s one of the task’s the CIC’s Hemp sub-group – of which I am proud to be the first chair – has set itself.
We will be lobbying the Government to remove the restrictive regulations surrounding hemp cultivation.
These include ending the prohibition on hemp, which has become confusingly associated with cannabis in many people’s eyes, as well as asking for responsibility for the issuing of cultivation licenses to be transferred from the Home Office to DEFRA, a logical move given that the latter department’s responsibility is agriculture, the environment and food production and standards.
End Destruction Of Flowers And Leaves
We also want to see producers allowed to use the whole plant – not just the seeds and stems – without restrictions. It is financially and environmentally senseless that the law currently requires the flowers and leaves – from which CBD is extracted – to be destroyed.
As a result, most of the CBD oil used in the UK has to be imported, a nonsensical approach that is preventing the hemp industry from reaching its full potential.
Another area of contention is the current THC limit for hemp, set at 0.2%. We will be challenging the Government to raise this to 1% THC for crops in the field, not just so we can compete with the likes of Canada, China and the US, but to take into account the effects of climate change.
Increased temperatures can see a surge in THC levels. Farmers should not be left in the invidious position of having to destroy their crop if it tests over 0.2% THC because temperatures are rising.
There is another concern. If a cultivar breaks the legal THC limits in consecutive years, it could be removed from the catalogue of permitted seeds, reducing the number of hemp varieties available.
As a group, we’re also keen to drive research and education as we work to dispel the negative connotations associated with both hemp and cannabis, and bring about meaningful change – especially in the public sector where unclear and inconsistent Government bureaucracy is hampering growth.
We know the Government is open to change – the legalisation of medical-based cannabis in November 2018 is proof that when presented with compelling evidence parliament can work quickly in the public’s interest.
Faced with the heartrending stories of parents fighting to get cannabis-based medicinal products available on prescription for their chronically- ill children, and the ensuing wave of public sympathy, the Government acted within a matter of weeks to change the law.
Environmental Benefits A Key Factor
We believe hemp’s environmental and economic benefits will speak loudly to both politicians and industry, especially those involved in energy and carbon intensive sectors like construction, plastics and even agriculture.
There is currently a massive drive to retro-fit homes with insulation as the UK looks to slash its carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. Wood fibre is being pushed as an ecological solution, but if that is used to meet just 10% of the UK’s annual insulation need, we will have to cut down 50% of the nation’s forests in the first year.
In the second year if we wanted to do another 10%, we would have to cut down the remaining 50%. We would then have to wait 28 years’ before we could do any more sustainable insulation.
But we have 4.9m acres of arable land in the UK on which we can grow as much sustainable hemp-based insulation as we need if the infrastructure – and the right incentives – are there to process the crop.
The message is clear. Hemp offers a genuine opportunity for the UK going forward to meet its environmental, carbon, economic and renewable energy targets. And it’s a message that the CIC will be taking not just to Westminster, but into the nation’s boardrooms.
This is the latest in a series of commentaries from the chairs of the Cannabis Industry Council’s sub-groups. There will be more to follow in the coming weeks.