Industrial hemp differs from drug hemp in its low content of THC, the cannabinoid that is responsible for the drug effect. But what does low mean and where is the limit to be drawn?
A look at history shows that in Europe specific THC limit values for industrial hemp were first determined in 1984. For the marketing years until 1987 a limit of 0.5 %, for subsequent marketing years a limit of 0.3 % was set. “Protection of public health” was the justification for this decision.
This was in line with the proposals from science, originally it was also set to 0.5 %, then in 1976 Small and Cronquist used a concentration of 0.3 % THC (dry weight basis) to distinguish between „hemp” (non-drug Cannabis) and „marijuana” (drug Cannabis). Since then, the 0.3% THC limit value for industrial hemp has been used internationally. These values are also currently determined in Canada and the USA.
Surprisingly, the regulation in the European Union were tightened up in 1999. The limit was lowered from 0.3 % to 0.2 %. This further lowering of THC level was justified to prevent the cultivation off illicit drug type Cannabis in industrial hemp fields. Yet no evidence was ever presented to support this opinion.
The aim of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) is now to restore the former, science-based and well-functioning THC limit of 0.3% for hemp crops.
And there are indeed good and weighty reasons for this: From a scientific point of view, there is no reason for a THC limit of 0.2%. In fact, 0.2% are as safe as 0.3% regarding drug abuse and there will be no noticeable effect on illicit Cannabis production.
In addition, decades of experience in Canada have shown that hemp seeds from industrial hemp with 0.3 % THC have no relevant higher THC values and that hemp seeds can also be classified with this threshold value (0.3 % THC) as absolutely safe and harmless (see “Reasonable guidance values for THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) in food products”).
But on the other hand, the lower THC limit value in Europe alone restricts the choice of varieties for European farmers. Due to the limitation of 0.2 % THC on the field, the hemp food industry in Europe has a significant competitive disadvantage to producers in North America and Asia. With increasing hemp food markets this problem will become even bigger in subsequent years.
That is why we are asking the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Member States to reverse the tightening up of 1999 and to restore the European hemp industry’s full competitiveness.
Historical and background information on the regulations in the European Union, collected by the board member Daniel Kruse, HempConsult (DE):