Health

Up in smoke? Hemp farmers fear EU decision

RATINGEN, Germany — For European farm managers like Bernd Wortmann, growing cannabis is a careful calculation.

To be considered legal “hemp” and receive EU farm subsidies, their plants must possess less than 0.2 percent of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). These plants also contain over 100 other chemicals, including cannabidiol (CBD) — which is non-psychoactive — that have been less clearly regulated.

Each part of the plant also offers different product opportunities and levels of revenue: Stems are used for fiber production, seeds for foods, feed and oils, leaves for cosmetics and food supplements, and the most lucrative part — the flowering tops — produce CBD for extracts used in things like health supplements and flavorings in foods and beverages such as tea.

“Its a very good smell,” said Wortmann, surveying the green fields he tends on the hills of western Germanys Ruhr valley. “I think hemp farming makes up a quarter of my cash flow.”

His crops are so prized that hes had to plant a strip of sunflowers to mask them from the road. This meets EU greening rules for receiving farm funds but also hides the crop from passing motorists, who he suspects have stolen around 100 plants already this year.

“I think I will have to go to work as a lorry driver maybe” — Hemp farmer Bernd Wortmann

But now Brussels is considering throwing farmers a new equation to figure out, indicating in an initial ruling that CBD food products derived from the top of the plant will not comply with the EUs so-called novel foods regulation.

If they cant sell such a key part of the plant, farmers say they wont be able make ends meet under their “whole plant” business model.

Its another example of how Europes ever-shifting legal gray area for cannabis products could leave businesses scrambling to recalibrate — and many hemp farmers fear they wont survive this potential new legal hurdle.

“I think I will have to go to work as a lorry driver maybe,” Wortmann said with a forced laugh.

Hemp history

Ironically for a product facing a ban under the EUs novel foods directive, Germanys hemp culture dates back many generations. Peasants smoked hemp called Knaster, containing only mild quantities of THC, from the 18th century onward. One hemp farmer in the Ruhr Valley hills, Michael Buscher, is himself the son of a cannabis plant farmer. “I was born in a hemp field,” he joked.

But an international treaty passed in 1961 shook up such traditions, declaring cannabis a narcotic and leading to bans in much of Europe as well as the U.S.

The EUs massive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies program has allowed the hemp industry to continue in its legal gray zone by implementing the THC threshold in 1999. What has been less clearly regulated is hemp products sold as foods or medicines.

Shops across Europe with cannabis leaves emblazoned on their windows sell hemp flowers (sometimes called “cannabis lite”) and products with cannabis extracts, as long as they stay within the THC limits and claim they are not for consumption.

In December 1997, the EUs standing committee on foodstuffs ruled that hemp flowers were food ingredients — and that “food containing parts of the hemp plant do not fall under the scope of the [novel foods] regulation.”

That decision paved the way for a mini boom in European hemp harvesting, which followed a surge in the U.S. after a 2014 farm bill ended hemp prohibition. Between 2011 and 2018, the amount of land in Europe farmed for hemp mushroomed from 8,000 hectares to 50,000 hectares, according to industry figures.

Hemp farmer Michael Buscher | Arthur Nelsen/POLITICO

Daniel Kruse, the founder of Hempro International, which buys Wortmanns crop to make oil, hulled seeds and protein powders, said he invested €4 million in the hemp industry as a result of that 1997 decision.

But because the products are largely unregulated, reports indicate that products may contain different levels of cannabinoids, especially CBD, than those declared on their labels.

“The industry is not doing themselves a favor if theyre doing such things,” said Sita Schubert, general secretary at the European Medicinal Cannabis Association (EUMCA).

Confusion around the legality of cannabis products has forced the closure of CBD shops in France and the loss of hemp farmers licenses in the U.K.

“To help the hemp industry thrive and to live up to its full potential, farmers need to be able to use the whole crop” — Liz McCulloch, director of policy at Volteface

In an effort to further clarify such products legal standing, the Commission last year pushed companies to submit applications for their CBD products for approval under the novel foods legislation.

The European Industrial Hemp Association, which Kruse also heads, organized 56 licensing applications from its members to remove any legal uncertainty about their operations.

The Commission then issued a preliminary ruling in July that CBD was not a food ingredient after all but rather a narcotic when extracted from the “flowering or fruiting tops” of hemp plants. Brussels is expected to make a final decision in the fall.

The top of the plant is where the most CBD-rich parts are found. If Brussels moves to officially restrict the use of the top part, that would deal a blow to hemp farmers “whole plant” business model.

“To help the hemp industry thrive and to live up to its full potential, farmers need to be able to use the whole crop,” said Liz McCulloch, director of policy at the British drug advocacy group Volteface. “Part of that means extracting CBD from the flower.”

Hemp entrepreneurs say Europes recent boom depended on the cultivation of hemp plant tops to augment retuRead More – Source