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Untapped Potential: The Call for UK’s Hemp Industry Investment Amplifies


Earlier this month, the co-chair of the UK’s APPG for Industrial Hemp and CBD, Ronnie Cowen, made an impassioned plea to parliament for government investment in the UK’s hemp industry.

A week after the Spring budget was announced, Mr Cowen questioned why hemp had been overlooked, not only as a provider of jobs and investment into the UK economy, but as a key tool in helping reach targets to reduce carbon emissions.

This topic was explored in more detail the following day during the Annual General Meeting of the APPG, where the Founder & CEO of Unyte Group, Jamie Bartley, explained why private investment alone is not enough to fund the significant expansion in infrastructure needed to allow the industry to flourish.

The hemp opportunity

During his budget speech on March 06, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt made little direct reference to climate change or carbon reduction initiatives, in what analysts described as a missed opportunity for green industry investment.

With Labour also recently rolling back on their £28bn green investment pledge, speculation that the UK could soon emulate President Biden’s green industry-focused Inflation Reduction Act appears to be just that for now.

Despite this, as Mr Cowen pointed out in his speech, the government is now ‘throwing some sizable chunks of money at lowering carbon emissions’, including a £120m increase in funding for the ‘green industries growth accelerator’ (GIGA), a fund for the expansion of clean energy supply chains, alongside plans to invest heavily in nuclear energy.

However, he questioned: “If we want to decarbonize our energy sector, if we want to stimulate agriculture, if we want to reduce plastic waste, if we want to reduce landfills, and if we want to improve our environment and increase agricultural yield, then why was there absolutely no mention whatsoever of hemp?”

He suggested that there are still people in the UK who hear hemp and fear the spread of recreational cannabis, an attitude ‘based in ignorance’.

Notably, he cited the recent example of Jersey Hemp, a hemp cultivator that was unfairly banned from importing into the UK in June last year by the Home Office, which is now understood to have admitted acting unlawfully.

“After months of legal action in the UK courts, the Home Office has finally admitted it acted unlawfully in relation to Jersey Hemp.

“I only mention this, as it’s symptomatic of the lack of vision of the UK government and lack of understanding when it comes to the hemp plant.”

Investment and infrastructure

The next day, Mr Bartley helped address some of the issues raised by Mr Cowen in Parliament, including why the UK isn’t taking more advantage of the opportunity presented by hemp.

“Why aren’t we doing this more? There is a massive amount of infrastructural investment needed… Private investment cannot do it alone in my mind; we need government investment too.”

As the CEO of Tenacious Labs, the former secretariat of the APPG, Nicholas Morland explained to the committee, only a fraction of the capital that investors are willing to bring into the market is currently available.

This is for two key reasons. The first is the UK’s strict licensing framework, which requires the THC level in hemp to be below 0.2%.

“THC content is a big risk for investors,” Mr Bartley said, adding that the ongoing dramatic swings in temperature due to climate change ‘stress’ the plant and cause THC levels to spike, making crops redundant.

This is driving investors to other European countries with more forgiving limits for hemp farmers.

Yet, the key barrier to attracting hemp investment remains the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), legislation that continues to penalise industrial hemp farmers in the UK regardless of the THC content of the crops they’re growing.

Lawyers, insurers, and banks remain unable to provide services due to POCA, meaning the path for investment capital to enter the market remains severely restricted.

The APPG has been pushing to amend POCA for months, seeking to emulate a similar amendment in Jersey which has made the Crown Dependency a thriving hub for cannabis businesses.

Mr Morland added: “Conversations surrounding POCA in Parliament and the House of Lords have been incredibly productive… but getting that turned into something useful in terms of legislation is hard, even with the people we have on side.”

“I’m really excited, it feels like we’ve got momentum… The one piece we’re missing is someone from the top to execute on these initiatives, they’re too big for people or departments to do under their own initiative.”

As Mr Bartley points out, the government has a huge opportunity in front of it, not just in being able to meet its 2050 net zero targets with new green building materials and carbon sequestration initiatives, but in being able to create jobs, support local industry, and ‘level up local economies’.

With the industry already providing a detailed blueprint for reform, and the ‘private sector willing to provide solutions’ to many of the barriers in place, both the APPG and Mr Cowen called on the government to ‘lead the charge’ on hemp.



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