How to Start a Hemp Business in the UK

It is legal to cultivate hemp in the UK, subject to certain conditions and fees. Unfortunately, the requirements set out by the UK government render it near to impossible for a hobby gardener to grow a few plants in the back garden. Hemp cultivation licenses are reserved for those with commercial interests and ventures in mind.

The UK is home to a mere 900 hectares of hemp farmland, compared to a total of 33,000 hectares across Europe. The once flourishing hemp industry in the UK was dismantled after it was prohibited in 1928 and despite being re-legalized in 1965, the industry is yet to recover from prohibition.

Fees and administration required for hemp cultivation are generally within reach and affordable, making the process a viable farming option for citizens of the UK. In this article, we outline the requirements and necessary steps towards obtaining a license to grow hemp in the UK.

History of hemp cultivation in the UK

Hemp’s heyday in the UK was from around 1550 CE (the Elizabethan era) to the mid-nineteenth century. For the most part, hemp was cultivated for its fibres. Hemp fibre was a commodity at the time because it was used to make sails and ropes required for naval and commercial ships.

During Henry VIII’s reign, it was mandatory for citizens of the UK to grow hemp. Every 60 acres of land that was farmed required ¼ acre of hemp with it, ensuring that the supply of hemp fibre remained steady.

When technologies arrived to remove the need for sailing ships, making way for the steamship, the demand for hemp fibre dropped dramatically in the UK. Naturally, this led to an enormous decline in the hemp industry at the beginning of the 19th century. Many other political situations affected the hemp industry in the UK, including slave labour in the USA for the manufacture of cotton.

Following WWI, hemp was outlawed in the UK. Hemp became associated with its psychoactive sibling, marijuana, and in the face of propaganda, hemp’s popularity plummeted to an all-time low. In 1993, hemp was re-legalized for cultivation in the UK, although interestingly, not many volunteered to participate. Now, most European hemp is grown in France, although citizens of the UK may apply for a license to grow industrial hemp.

What are the requirements?

To successfully apply for a license to cultivate hemp, you must be registered as a company with Companies House, and with a valid company number. Company details must be provided to the Home Office Controlled Drugs Licensing department in order to register online and complete the application.

The available information is far from clear. In the Home Office Low THC Cannabis (Industrial Hemp) Licensing Factsheet (November 2018, v 1.3) there are several references to the need for each individual grower to be separately licensed. However, there is no option for an individual to register online to apply for the license—only companies may register. The login form for company registration with the Home Office can be found here.

Companies must also submit a statement to the Drugs Licensing department that clearly outlines the location, grid references, annotated map and acreage of the proposed grow site. This statement must also contain details of the type of seed sown, the THC content of the variety in question and evidence that the variety is approved by the EU.

What you can and cannot do with a license

The Industrial Hemp Factsheet mentioned earlier provides clear information on the possibilities and limitations for licensees:

  • Seeds must produce plants with no more than .2% THC and must be selected from the European Approved Seed Catalogue. This limits the varieties that can be grown and the potential quality of the crop.
  • Upon receipt of a valid license, companies are thereby entitled to cultivate hemp with a THC content of 0.2% or lower.
  • Growers are requested to “site the crop sensitively”. Prior, there were stricter conditions for the location of the crop (such as being away from schools and road), but it is now just required to use discretion when locating a hemp farm.
  • Growers must also keep a record of growing locations, and submit this record to the local police.
  • As a license covers an entire farm, grow sites may be moved around from field to field without amending the license (although records must still be kept).
  • However, if relocating the grow to an entirely new site, an amendment must be made to the license and a whole new license application may be needed.
  • Cultivators in possession of a three-year license must also complete an Annual License Review Statement at the start of each growing season and before May 1st of each year.

License fees

All information regarding license fees is also included in the Industrial Hemp Factsheet. The cost to apply for a hemp cultivation license is £580, and the fee for each subsequent renewal is £326. If a compliance visit is required, the fee will rise to £1371. However, these checks are needed in less than 10% of all cases, and are considered unlikely. Applications are processed using the “light-touch regime”, which ensures that most are considered solely on the basis of the online application and are not dependent on a satisfactory compliance visit.

Licenses are valid for three years, but always expire on the 31st December of the final year. Therefore, applicants submitting forms in January-March 2012 will be able to utilise the three full growing seasons afforded them, but those submitting later than March may lose out on some or all of one growing season.

Despite licenses being valid for three years, growers are required to complete an ‘Annual Licence Review Statement’ at the start of the second and third growing seasons, typically by 1st May. Failure to complete and submit this statement may result in the license being revoked.

While these fees may seem expensive, they are considerably lower than the cost of applying for a license to cultivate high THC cannabis, which costs £4700.

Criminal record checks

Company representatives applying for a hemp license from the Home Office must pay for a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. This is the same as the former enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. It costs £44 (as of 2018) and must be requested from Capita recruitment vetting services, who charge an additional administration fee of £9.50 plus VAT. Home Office Drugs Licensing must be noted as the Registered Body in the application. No other screening service is accepted by the Home Office.

Other things to consider when starting a hemp business

If renting the land intended for cultivation of hemp, it is not necessary for the landlord to apply for a cultivation license; only the grower must apply. However, it may be advisable to inform and seek permission or approval from the landlord prior to commencing cultivation to ensure that compliance with the lease terms is upheld.

Hemp fibre producers may be eligible for the BPS agricultural subsidy

Fibre crop cultivators with at least 5 hectares of agricultural land may be eligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), an agricultural subsidy that replaced the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) from May 2015. Further information on the BPS can be found here.

If growing at multiple locations, each location must be licensed fully and separately. In such cases, it is advisable to contact the Drugs Licensing and Compliance department via email: industrialhemplicensing@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk. This email address can also be used for any other questions related to your specific situation.

And lastly, applicants seeking more information or assistance with applying for a license can contact the British Hemp Association (BHA). The objective of this organisation is to promote and reinstate the cultivation of hemp in the UK, and they have resources that may be of assistance to license applicants.

  • Disclaimer:
    While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide legal advice, as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

Comments

50 thoughts on “How to Start a Hemp Business in the UK”

  1. any information on requirements for high thc cannabis, i know that the licence cost is GBP4700, but is there any other restrictions to grow?

      1. Technically anyone can apply to grow ‘medical cannabis’ with high percentage THC levels in the UK.

        You’ll have to be prepared to jump through many hoops and do everything by the book.

        The main factors required;

        1, you must have a registered UK business. Cost around £12
        https:// www. gov.uk/ limited-company-formation/register-your-company

        2, you must be a registered pharmaceutical manufacturer, or apply to become one. Cost approx £7k
        https:// www. gov.uk/ guidance/apply-for-manufacturer-or-wholesaler-of-medicines-licences

        3, you must apply to the government for a cannabis growing license. Cost £4.7k
        https:// www. gov.uk/ guidance/controlled-drugs-licences-fees-and-returns

        So a minimum initial outlay of around £15k, assuming you can get through all the checks and are granted your licenses.

        Obviously before all that you would need to do your market research and draw up a solid business plan, and work out all your initial costs etc.

        If this was something someone really wanted to do I believe its completely possible.

    1. Britking420

      http://www.vice/en_uk/article/qkmwdm/how-british-weed-growers-are-avoiding-prosecution

      Here is a new potential way around things to start you off and keep the police of your back!!

  2. Do you know any more info with regards to having a buyer for the hemp, in place before application is approved? Cheers

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hello Rich,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m afraid I don’t have any further information for you about this, possibly if you contact the Home Office on the email address in the article (industrialhemplicensing@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk) they may be able to tell you if this is a requirement or not. Please let us know if you do get an answer from them 🙂

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

      1. Michael Palmer.

        How on Earth are multiple tumours sufferers (we all know about the child on National TV)( and how history repeats it’s sefless self with old English Heavenly flags in caste like loyalties) since when has a poor busy family been able even allowed by law in keeping (clean) clear from illness with a little help from a swig of wine and a toke even in candy bar form . NHS bless her would go bankrupt with looking for patent’s.I know a Multple Scarosis sufferer whose been in her wheelchair since an OBE was awarded as a Matron. Would give anything to see her walking again being my Mothers’ friend since age of two in Ferry Path Chesterton, Cambridge. Lives in beautiful Buckinghamshire looked after by top psychiatrists who have kept her in the dark for ever.Cannibis cures and prevents illnesses loads .This winge is the cost £4700 for a licence . (Protectionist brother and sister.) Farmers make £250000 per250 plants per year.No problem to farmers. £70 per wk MS sufferers and those whose needs are wanting. I myself am a victum of an RTcrash where GP failed to see injuries became long term psychiatric and subsiquitly long term unemployed everything’s better now since laws are changeable in history and amendments are being made every day.

  3. The article says, “Licenses are valid for three years”, but on the government’s application page it says, “Licences last for a growing season, and you must renew your licence before you can begin to grow for the next season”, and with the same price: “New licences usually cost £580, with licence renewals costing £326.”
    https://www.gov.uk/hemp-growing-licence

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Ed,

      Thank you for your comment, I have passed it on to the author of this article and we will update as necessary.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

      1. Interesting article !!

        Hey there seshata,
        Do sensi seeds have uk approved hemp seeds And a port of contact to discus this?
        I am thinking of setting up a cannabis cafe using only cbd infused ingredients along with selling bought in cbd products
        I intend to grow on site but indoors hydroponically
        Doing this raises the question of “growing season” as I wouldn’t have one
        The second question would be of what would the crb check be for? As I have a criminal record and spent time in prison for growing cannabis on a “industrial scale” in the eyes of the law a few years back
        Of course this time I want it to be legit and above board
        Any info greatly recieved

  4. Michael Palmer

    Having an RT 34 years ago. Find times are changing . Great site .Chandra Palmer.

  5. Is there anyone who can give me any information on where I can sell the industrial hemp once I have grown it in the uk? Also what profit is there in growing on 1-2 acres of land in the uk

    Thank you

    Ian

    1. have u sourced a buyer ? and where can you get the seeds from to grow license has been applied for but coming up against brickwalls as to suppliers.

      great.

  6. Michael Palmer.

    Would be worth knowing. Has government an agenda yet. Medical CBDs’ saving lives maybe a spray shrinking tumors even a healthly way as a preventitive.How about taxes in 1-2 hectares .Who buys all those beatifull buds.?. £4750 a licence OK. …now what,where and who.
    ,

  7. Hi can anyone tell me about the higher THC licenses priced at £4700 what thc levels does this allow also what is the CBD percentage levels you are allowed. Does it have to be grow in fields or can it be in warehouse hydroponically?

    1. Green_fingers81

      THC levels have to be at 0.2% or lower.
      License for higher THC strains are solely given to members of the scientific and pharmaceutical industry only.
      There is 0% chance of any regular citizen gaining this form of licencing. Unfortunately the UK government seems adamant on continued denial of the benefits (both medicinal and financial) to the country, big pharma don’t like the idea of people growing their own medicine, how would your GP afford his nice home and flash car haha!
      We seem to be the only country who are not willing to say “we were wrong” they make far too much money from prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco to do so. It is a very sad state of affairs.

      1. I agree- will it change in UK? Possibly not in my life time! But keep positive and Big Pharma might one day become Little.

  8. Hello Guys,

    Does anyone know anything about importing the hemp shiv to the UK from the EU. It is a hemo shiv coming from the fully legal crops. Are there any additional regulations in UK?? Maybe you know some companies that may be intrested in buying it?

    regards

    Ralph S

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Ralph,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I can’t answer this question, but you could try getting in touch with our industrial hemp sister company HempFlax on info@hempflax.com to see if they have more information.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  9. After reading all of the above, and knowing,that theres so many like minded folk out there, who live normal, productive lives, contributing to society, but yet denied a simple weed that beyond doubt, has such positive benefits to so many in so many ways, Is so cheap to produce for medicinal and sociable reasons. but our drugs minister tells us there is no legitimate medicinal benefit from cannabis ,, and then we find out her husband actually makes a living from doing just this!!!! Growing Weed!!! GuysNgals watch this space the Gov is being forced into a corner and I think medicinal CBS will be allowed,, but under strict license,, so this means that once again government will give to the select already well heeled cronies, to make vast fortunes when it should be free to all,, while still making it illegal to grow some persi in ya shed.
    i hope more people read your threads and a voice is found big enough to say Hey I thought this was a Democracy you cannot let some,,, and make illegal for everyone else ,, we need to say F-ck off for once! instead of bleeting like sheep and following the misguided herd. VIVA POT :)) rant over,, but come on, not one cannabis related death but numerous cancers killed ???

  10. Would people with a criminal record (historic drugs offences)?be ineligible for obtaining a license?

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Mike,

      Good question, which I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for. Your best bet is to contact the Home Office and ask them directly. Sorry I can’t be of more help,

      with best wishes,

      Scarlet

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Pete,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid I don’t really understand the question, as hemp does not produce buds that you would want to smoke? For general information, please use the site search function to search for ‘indoor growing’, and also check out our forum where you can read about people’s personal experiences and ask any cultivation questions that you may have.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  11. I’m living in an area that in parts is desperate for regeneration and local work , and there’s acres of abandoned land here ( which is probably council ‘owned’ now I’d imagine ) . I’m not sure if I’d get a license but I’d love to find out . This could provide steady jobs for a decent amount of locals overall. Maybe I need guidance and help with this tho.

  12. We are applying for a licence in the Isle of Man.
    I need to form a network of people in the trade on main land uk.
    We have our own government so the whole process is going to be different.
    Can anyone point me in the right direction to connect with people with the knowledge and passion for the trade?.
    Long road ahead and I feel like a lone wolf flying the flag for hemp o we here stuck on this rock.
    Thanks

    1. James Guttridge

      Paul,

      Similar situation with me on the main land UK. Early stages but so far so good.

      Do the same Home Office rules not apply to applications on the Isle of Man?

      Regards

    2. Hello Paul

      I hope your project has been going well for over a year?

      I am located in France and I have been passionate for many years. I also worked in the French vineyard in Champagne for ten years.

      I am enthusiastic about the idea of coming to the Isle of Man to lend you a helping hand in your business.
      Do not hesitate to write to me to discuss together.
      cordially

  13. Old but relevant;

    http://www.gov. uk /government/news/ mhra-statement-on-products-containing-cannabidiol-cbd

  14. Hi Paul

    Can hemp be grown indoors (with a licence) and then the CBD oil extracted from this for personal medication?

    Angie

  15. I would also like to try grow indoors,I don’t know where to start if they require Grid Locations etc.
    What is required To grow small scale at home or garden

    Thanks

    Tom

  16. Sally Jones

    Where can this oil actually be sold to after cultivation , or do you need to sell direct to the government?

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Jackie,

      You don’t specify what method of consumption you mean or what effect you would be trying to achieve so this is not as simple as a ‘yes'(although the short answer is ‘yes’) … industrial hemp is not psychoactive so it would be safe, but pointless, to use it to try to achieve a high. However, the flowers do contain CBD so vaping them to achieve pain relief or other health benefits might work; however, industrial hemp is not grown for high levels of CBD so it would not be the best advice. Herbal teas can be made from industrial hemp leaves and flowers and are mainly enjoyed for their flavour. The seeds from industrial hemp are extremely healthy and nutritious and have been enjoyed by humans and animals for thousands of years. I hope this answers your question, if not, please let me know and I’ll try to explain further.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  17. Manuel Petitat

    Hi,

    What is the legal thc-content to sell hemp in a shop in the UK (<0.2%, <0.3%, <1%)?

    Thank you,

    Manuel

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Manuel,

      To my knowledge, the legal THC limit for industrial hemp in the UK is less than 0.2%, in line with the majority of Europe.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  18. Was a very good article compared to some other hemp pieces ive read. MY question would be is it legal to grow hemp indoors instead out doing it outdoors in a farm as ive tried to research it but there is no answer and nothing hinting that it is illegal but I would love to make sure its legal 100% before I start planning stages of growing

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi John,

      Thank you for your positive feedback! That’s a really interesting question, which unfortunately I don’t know the answer to. Perhaps one of our other readers does? Otherwise, you could perhaps contact the European Industrial Hemp Association (eiha.com) and see if they can advise you. In the meantime, good luck with your project, and I hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  19. Hi there ! I was wondering if anyone could point me in the right direction here. I’m looking at retailing Hemp cosmetic, clothing and imported oil / low thc flowers. My question is, what is legal or illegal and what is the Tax% on these products !? I want to respect the law but it can be very confusing..

    1. Scarlet Palmer - Sensi Seeds

      Hi Manu,

      Thank you for your comment, and your support for hemp! Unfortunately I do not have the answers to your questions, but I recommend that you contact the European Industrial Hemp Association (eiha.org) who will hopefully be able to help you. Good luck with your project!

      With best wishes,

      Scarlet

  20. Jamie Walker

    Hi, I’m a Microgreens grower and wondered whether there were any licensing requirements to grow Hemp Microgreens? They are a mega superfood & actually second to none in many of their nutrients, not to mention curative properties. If anyone knows it’s be good to hear. Cheers, Jamie.

    1. Hi Jamie, I’m also a microgreens grower and was also looking into growing hemp this way. I have chefs who would love to use it as a quirky new ingredient for salads and garnishes. The Government’s statement on not harvesting leaves etc is clearly aimed at people who might want to smoke it. I’ve put in a specific request for clarification about the harvesting of this as a microgreen because the first shoots are not “true leaves” anyway so you’re harvesting the shoots and not the full true leaves and there would certainly be no flowers. If I get a response I’ll update this post.

  21. Sorry my dudes they have changed the UK law. “No harvesting of the leaves and flowers.”

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Maurice Veldman

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