When people talk about growing cannabis plants specifically for CBD, there must be a distinction drawn between hemp and marijuana. Although both plants are technically the same species, cannabis, the legally defining difference between them is that hemp plants contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychoactive component of cannabis that makes it illegal, while marijuana plants contain more than 0.3% THC.
Technically, CBD can be derived from both hemp and marijuana plants, but does that mean that either of them is legal under the UK laws in 2021? This article looks at this particular question.
Can You Grow Hemp at Home in the UK?
The bad news on this topic is that it doesn't matter what kind of cannabis subspecies you intend on growing. All varieties are labelled as illegal substances according to the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1979, irrelevant of the amount of THC they contain. Basically, all varieties of cannabis in the UK currently have the same label of illicit "weed", and growing weed is definitely not legal under UK law in 2021. If you're just an average person wanting to grow some hemp, it doesn't matter how many cannabis plants you're intending to grow or what their THC concentrations will be, you will be doing so illegally in the UK.
It doesn't matter whether you are wanting these plants for personal use or if you are growing them to sell. If you are caught growing cannabis, you could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison, and/or receive a fine. Even though CBD in and of itself is legal in the UK, and can be imported without much difficulty, cultivation of plants intended for CBD manufacture is difficult for businesses, and nigh on impossible for the average person.
Growing Industrial Hemp as a Business
UK companies can apply to the British Home Office for a license to grow industrial hemp. The license is called a Controlled Drug Domestic License and only permits you to grow low-THC cannabis (industrial hemp) for harvesting plant fiber and seeds. The license does not permit you to harvest hemp flowers that contain a high concentration of CBD and does not permit you to extract CBD. In other words, the license does not allow you to "make" CBD.
It's a pretty bizarre law that doesn't really make sense to a lot of people. Even if you do want to apply for a hemp growing license, it's not as simple as getting registered in the UK and then growing hemp in your backyard. There are specific requirements that need to be met before you can even think of applying, and even then, it's not a guarantee.
CBD Growing License in the UK
There are specific requirements that need to be met before you can even think of applying for a license to grow industrial hemp, and even then, it's not a guarantee. When applying for a license to grow CBD plants indoors or outdoors, companies have to submit numerous documents, pay fees, and then you might just be awarded a license valid for a few years, whereupon you'll have to reapply.
Applying for a Home Office license to grow medical marijuana as a business is a much more complex (and virtually impossible) procedure. As of 2021, only two UK companies are licensed to grow pharmaceutical-grade cannabis.
How to Get an Industrial Hemp Growing License in the UK
If you are hellbent on growing industrial hemp in Britain, here is a step-by-step process of what you'll have to do to make it so as per the UK government regulations.
- Undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service check to prove that there is no criminal activity on your name. You can find a form for this here.
- Pay an application fee of £580 for new applicants, or £326 for a renewal. Additionally, if a compliance visit is required, the fee will be £1,371.
- Submit your application form online. Aside from this, the documents required on your part encompass everything including:
- Personal information and contact details.
- Plot details such as location, size, etc.
- Type of seeds you intend to plant with the specific variety listed and the THC content.
- Verification that this particular seed is an approved type.
Things to Note About Growing License Requirements
Aside from the difficulty in actually applying for the growing license, there are a bunch of further requirements you have to meet in order for your license to be valid and remain so.
- Your crops have to be grown away from schools and public rights of way or vehicular access.
- If your site changes in the future, you have to inform the home office in advance.
- The license is technically valid for three years.
- Holders of a multi-year license need to submit an Annual Licence Review Statement at the start of each growing season. As part of this process, you are required to provide details of the records you have kept for the previous growing season relating to cultivation areas, sowing details, and yields.
- If you rent the land, the requirements for the license are on your behalf and not the land owner's. Additionally, each location you intend to grow at must be separately licensed.
- You must inform the local authorities that you intend to grow industrial hemp on your land, even if your application is approved.
Is It Worth It to Grow Industrial Hemp?
The advantage to wanting to grow industrial hemp as a business is that the process itself is easy and hemp is very low-maintenance, which can be profitable if you can get by the outrageous requirements to do so legally. However, if you are simply an individual intending to grow a few CBD plants at home for personal use or as a side business, it is basically impossible under the current laws.
It is likely that things will get better in the future as laws are amended, but this is the current reality for all prospective growers in the countries that make up the UK in 2021. The law doesn't differ between England and other countries for now, unfortunately.