UK Hemp Activists Launch Civil Disobedience Campaign

The launch of Liberate Hemp's civil disobedience campaign included a distillation demonstration. Photo: Liberate Hemp

A group of U.K. activists launched a civil disobedience campaign this month that is encouraging people to grow hemp without a license. Through the campaign, the group Liberate Hemp hopes to free the crop from a restrictive regulatory regime to make the benefits of hemp available to all.

Earlier this month, the collective of farmers, health practitioners, weavers, gardeners and artists met on the site of a former hemp farm known as Hempen to organize the campaign. While there, those who had gathered were taught how to sow and grow their own hemp plants in window boxes, backyards and community gardens. The group was then asked to put their new skills to work, both at their homes and at a public mass hemp planting scheduled to take place in Bristol on June 18.

Civil Disobedience Through Gardening
The Liberate Hemp campaign is encouraging people to openly grow hemp at home, including drawing attention to their efforts through garden signs and social media posts that explain the gardener’s personal motivations. Zena Winterbottom, a former director at Hempen who is now working as an herbalist, said in a statement from the campaign that “hemp is an amazing economic and ecological lifeline for U.K. farming, but the licensing regime makes it really difficult to grow and produce it here. Instead, the government seems to want us to import from places with supportive hemp policies like Switzerland, France and China.”

Hempen is a workers co-operative located in Goring Heath in the district of South Oxfordshire producing a variety of hemp and CBD products and was the UK’s first certified organic hemp farm. In 2019, the U.K. Home Office unexpectedly revoked the co-op’s license to grow hemp, forcing the farmers to destroy their crop worth about £200,000. Although the farm is not currently licensed to grow hemp, it works with organic hemp farmers to grow and develop their crop, which is manufactured into culinary, cosmetic and wellness products. The group was also honored as a sanctuary for refugees earlier this year for its program to assist immigrants seeking a better life in Britain.

The Liberate Hemp campaign notes that under U.K. law, hemp with less than 0.2% THC is regulated just as strictly as potent strains of marijuana that are 10 times as strong. To grow hemp, farmers must obtain a permit from the Drugs and Firearms unit at the Home Office. Under this regulatory regime, hemp is subject to strict licensing requirements, even though the World Health Organization has determined that the crop does not pose a health risk.

“Like Hempen, farmers that have tried to do everything by the book and have been punished by being denied a license without good reason.,” said Winterbottom. “One farmer was denied a renewal of his license because his farm was near a nuclear weapons facility and another because it was near a bed and breakfast.”

Cannabis Already A Valuable Crop In The UK
The campaign aims to increase the amount of hemp grown by UK farmers for use as food, CBD products, manufacturing and construction materials. In May 2021, the Association for Cannabinoid Industries and Centre for Medicinal Cannabis estimated the UK cannabidiol (CBD) industry alone generated £690 million (about $875 million) in annual sales last year.

The Liberate Hemp campaign noted that the hemp agriculture sequesters more carbon than sustainable forestry, rebuilds depleted soils, supports biodiversity, uses four times less water than cotton and acts as a healthy sustainable protein alternative to meat and fish.

“Hemp is too important for the health of the nation, the health of our communities and the health of our planet, to wait for the government to explain why they have criminalized growing it,” she said. “As a movement we can do things that businesses can’t. A prosecution to one will be considered a prosecution to all and we’ll make sure they justify this inside and outside of court.”

More information about Liberate Hemp’s civil disobedience campaign and the mass hemp planting in Bristol next month is available on the group’s website.