Why it is time to weed out misconceptions on hemp

The UK currently faces a paradox when it comes to the production of hemp. The industry been subject to fierce public debate, and at the same time has seen the production of the plant severely limited.

Currently, industrial hemp production has a myriad of 20,000 applications from paper, rope, and cloth, to building material (hempcrete), bioplastics and weed suppression. Developments in hemp technology also continue to reveal new and exciting ways in which the hemp plant can benefit society, including hemp fibre which is being used to develop renewable plastics and beauty supplements offering an array of health benefits for consumers.

According to experts, the hemp plant can even act as an agricultural and environmentally sustainable tool for governments looking to keep to their climate commitment of Carbon Net zero by 2030. This is because hemp is one of the fastest CO2 to biomass conversation tools available, absorbing more C02 per hectare than any forest or other commercial crop. Hemp can also act as an environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum for the transport industry when it is converted into biodiesel.

It is no surprise then that we are is seeing a rising number of ambitious entrepreneurs looking to make waves in the UK hemp industry. New businesses ventures are cropping up in a diverse range of economic sectors, such as food, supplements, construction, and clothing. Sadly, the actual size of the UK hemp cultivation sector is still bitterly small however, due to the hemp plant’s association with recreational cannabis.

Technically, the term “hemp” is used to define a low THC (or psychoactive) variety of the Cannabis Sativa Plant, one of the most publicly contentious plants on earth. Its usage and popularity through the ages has led it to be branded a super medicine by some and stigmatised as an evil on society across others.

As a bit of background, civilisations across the world have been using hemp for thousands of years. The plant was arguably one of the most significant crops for mankind up until the early 1900s, with evidence of its use dating back to 500AD. Tragically, a smear campaign in the 1930s meant public opinion began to turn after the plant was used more widely as a medicine and relaxant. The result was that hemp was made illegal for most of the 20th century and to this day, strict limits remain on the industrial cultivation of hemp. This is despite that variety of the plant containing very low levels of the psychoactive compound THC that is associated with getting “high” from cannabis.

Amidst the complex legislation and red tape existing in the UK, hemp is allowed to be grown only for industrial application using the non-controlled parts of the plant, whilst the leaves and the flowers must be destroyed on site. Approval from the Home Office through an industrial Hemp (low THC) license is one of the pre-requisites for this sort of cultivation, but the application process can be long, expensive, and convoluted due to the government’s lack of clarity over the rules and regulations.

These hurdles could be quite easily rectified, but there is little to no effort by the government to increase cultivation. Restrictions have gone the opposite way and have begun to be tightened and become saddled with bureaucracy. So, whilst the UK generally has a positive opinion of hemp, the industry mostly still sits in political purgatory and medical no-man’s land.

As with any subject matter, PR can be an incredible tool when it comes to raising awareness and influencing change. This is especially true for the whole of the cannabis industry, which is particularly difficult to market and promote, even when concerning products of a medical nature.

A lobbying and press campaign for instance, played a key role in securing Alfie Dingley the first medical cannabis prescription back in 2018 and this is the same for the other two NHS prescriptions which have been administered.

As if 2020 hadn’t been bad enough, at the end of it, the lives of 40 children taking medical cannabis for severe epilepsy were thrown into jeopardy. Parents were given just a mere two weeks’ warning that their medical cannabis supply would be terminated due to Brexit. What followed, another example of the power of PR. Following a hugely successful press campaign, which generated over 80 pieces of coverage, with 30 in national and broadcast titles in just two weeks, the Government acted. The mother of Alfie Dingley, Hannah Deacon, was granted a meeting with the Minister for Public Health, Jo Churchill and following this, the Department of Health confirmed supply would be continued until 1st July 2021.

The reality is then that PR has been a huge driver in debunking myths and opening up the medical cannabis industry, and the same needs to be done urgently for the hemp industry. PR firms can bring huge benefits to hemp organisations in all strands of the industry, whether that’s by promoting the products to health and wellbeing audiences, using case studies to show the life-changing effects of hemp cultivation in the third world, or raising awareness of the plant’s ability to tackle climate change to influence policy and instigate real change.

If you would like to discuss how a press office or lobbying campaign could help put your brand or business on the map, get in touch with us today.

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