Europe’s history and experience with the industrial hemp plant far exceeds that of present-day American farmers and the U.S. hemp industry. Europe has long cultivated hemp for a variety of commonly known industrial uses, such as animal feed, woven textiles fiber, and hurd uses for building materials.
Further, industrial hemp has been legal in Europe prior to and since the days of U.S. prohibition of the plant beginning in the 1930s. Today, an interesting dynamic presents itself.
The 2014 Farm Bill in the United States allowed American technological innovators to consider extracting a variety of cannabinoids. In turn, this quickly brought an array of products to market, fueled by a robust new economy surrounding non-psychoactive cannabinoids. The most prominent one being, of course, CBD.
It’s nearly 2021 and the American marketplace is moving toward more versatile and well-rounded uses of the industrial hemp plant, mirroring what the European Union has implemented for decades. This past month, two very important developments occurred on the Continent. First, the European Parliament raised the requisite THC percentage in the plant material from 0.2 to 0.3 percent, bringing it in line with American policy. This proposal has long been advocated by the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA).
Second, the European Union court of justice made a decision that indicated they will not treat CBD as a narcotic drug. Therefore, CBD cannot be prohibited if it’s legal in member states. Until now, both of these variables have hampered the development of the European industrial hemp industry despite its long-standing presence and experience with the plant.
While these are victories, we’ve seen many in the U.S. advocate for a higher THC threshold than 0.3 percent. This begs the question — why didn’t the European Union opt for 0.5, 1, or 1.5 percent, as has happened in many countries around the world, like Colombia and Switzerland?
MORE FOR YOU
When the THC percentage is higher, even by a decimal point, it enables the plant to express a dramatic number of positive characteristics, like producing cannabinoids at higher levels. Yet this won’t necessarily lead to more international commerce.
For example, if I produce a 1.0 percent THC cannabis plant in Colombia and extract CBD from it, can I import it into a country like the United States, with a 0.3 percent standard? Or will that be treated as a marijuana derivative and therefore a controlled substance? These questions remain unanswered. Nonetheless, it was a wise move for the EU to increased the allowable THC percentage to better position the region for success in emerging global hemp industry.
Europe’s 0.2 percent was long a hindrance to cannabinoid producers because CBD in hemp rises in proportion to the amount of THC in a plant. As a result, European scientists, researchers, and farmers generally developed high-yield seed or fiber varieties, rather than the high-CBD varieties now in such great demand.
The raising of 0.1 percent in THC will unlock the potential for hemp genetics that have been sitting dormant in European seed banks. It’s important to note that most countries across Europe have seed banks that include many industrial hemp varieties. The Polish Institute of Natural Fibres and Medicinal Plants is the longest-standing hemp institute in the world and a number of other European countries have an equivalent seed bank and hemp genetic research entity.
Only a small number of those seeds have entered the market as certified varieties. The majority of those cultivars have been suited for fiber and grain production, rather than for CBD or other minor cannabinoids. This recent change will rejuvenate seed science and motivate farmers and bioengineers to move forward with additional varieties. Further, it will unlock varieties that have been underutilized and un-utilized for decades, their potential unknown.
This reflects a major advancement for Europe and its industrial hemp industry, despite the fact that it’s been around for so long. Europe appears to have taken a cue from the United States and paid notice to the booming cannabinoid industry across the pond since 2014.
Cannabis in the European Union with less than 0.3 THC is now considered an agricultural commodity or agricultural material. If CBD derived from a hemp plant is legal in one EU member state, it cannot be prohibited for distribution and sale across the EU as a supplement or over-the-counter product, something else the EIHA had advocated for.
Taken all together, this starts to address the regulatory chaos we’ve talked about at length. The loosening of commercial restrictions concerning legal CBD will greatly advance the position of the European industrial hemp industry, tapping into previously unrealized potential. The EU will more effectively compete with the United States, if not other countries currently racing to capture a market share of the global cannabis economy.