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hemp seeds legal

Yes, Eating Hemp Seeds Is Legal

A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.


Raw chocolate hemp seed pie at Gorilla Food in Vancouver. [Flickr: SweetOnVeg]

In the world of nuts and seeds, hemp seeds stand out as a nutritional powerhouse. Hemp seeds contain all 10 essential amino acids as well as the essential fatty acids our bodies need to survive but can’t produce on their own. Hemp seed oil contains more essential fatty acids than any other nut or seed oil, with a ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids of 1:3, which many health and wellness professionals find to be as close to ideal as possible.

Despite all of these benefits, there is a tremendous amount of confusion about hemp, mostly related to its intoxicating sibling, marijuana. So let’s begin by clearing some of that up:

Hemp and marijuana are the same thing, right?

Unfortunately, hundreds of years of writing, music, culture, and politics have created a great deal of confusion about these plants. Canabis sativa is the genus and species of the two plants that we have come to know as hemp and marijuana. The subspecies sativa (full name Canabis sativa sativa) is hemp—a tall, fibrous plant which prior to the advent of the steam engine, was prized by sailors as an excellent material for making rope for ships and large sailing vessels. The subspecies indica (full name Canabis sativa indica) is a smaller, bushier plant whose leaves contain large amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive compound which has made it a potent and popular recreational drug.

If I eat hemp products, will I test positive for a drug test?

In a word, no. In fact, you can buy and consume a number of products made from every part of the hemp plant. There’s hemp soap, hemp milk and ice cream, hemp oil for cooking, hemp seeds for snacking and baking, and even hemp clothing you can wear. These products contain no THC and are perfectly safe and legal. So feel free to “hemp out” without fear of failing a drug test.

So if hemp is so useful, I can grow it in my garden, right?

Sadly, no. The U.S. government makes no distinction between the different subspecies of cannabis plants. All of the hemp in the U.S. is imported. China is the world’s largest producer, but it’s also grown in South Korea, Europe (mostly in France), and in some South American countries. All of the hemp that comes into the U.S. is tested to make sure it contains no THC before it is allowed to enter the country.

Do you buy products made with hemp, or cook or bake with hemp seeds or hemp seed oil?

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Lee Zalben aka “The Peanut Butter Guy” is the Founder and President of Peanut Butter & Co. In 1998 Lee opened the Peanut Butter & Co. sandwich shop in New York City and in 2003 expanded into retail distribution. His line of ten different varieties of all natural peanut butter (Dark Chocolate Dreams, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, Smooth Operator, etc.) is now sold at over 15,000 supermarkets and natural food stores throughout the US and Canada, including Kroger, Safeway, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods. Lee has a passion for delicious, wholesome food and the people who grow it, produce it, and cook it, and serve it! Lee is the author of The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook (Quirk Books) which is now in its fourth printing, and writes the weekly That’s Nuts column for Serious Eats. A graduate of Vassar College, Lee also earned a master’s degree from Pace University.

Hemp seeds are a bona fide superfood, but confusion about their connection to marijuana keeps many people from adding these nutty green treats to their diet. Do you buy products made with hemp, or cook or bake with hemp seeds or hemp seed oil?

Current UK Hemp Legislation and What it Means for the Industry

By Emily Ledger

Last month, Volteface launched its most recent reform campaign, to allow British hemp farmers to benefit from the ever-growing CBD market. Most people, who have never looked into cultivating hemp, probably don’t realise the severity of the restrictions placed on the industry. So, we are outlining current UK hemp legislation and what this means to the industry.

Hemp has been cultivated in the UK for centuries – Henry VII even introduced a law that meant all farmers had to dedicate a portion of their land to the crop. However, the reputation of the crop has been tainted by its association with its high-THC cousin, ‘marijuana’.

Since cannabis (all genus and strains) was made illegal in the UK, hemp cultivation has seen a huge decline, as the crop became increasingly controlled. Now, it is considered to not be financially viable by many British farmers.

It is legal to grow hemp in the UK, but…

First of all, hemp cultivation is legal in the UK – which is great – but there are a lot of catches. The first hurdle for the aspiring hemp farmer is to acquire a license from the Home Office. This license permits the holder to grow the ‘*controlled substance’ under certain conditions.

*Although hemp contains extremely small amounts of THC, it is categorised as ‘Cannabis’, which is a controlled substance under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. More on this later…

hemp crops

New hemp cultivation licenses cost £580, whereas a license renewal costs £326. In order to gain this license, the location and size of the proposed farm and the seed type need to be approved. Only seeds that have been EU-approved and contain less than 0.2%THC will be allowed to be planted. In addition, a Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) must be undertaken to check for eligibility.

So, what are the conditions?

Once a license has been approved, you might think that you are free to get on with growing your hemp crop and processing it for a huge number of legal and popular products. Well, not quite.

Hemp can be used for manufacturing a hugely diverse catalog of products. The seeds can be used to make hemp seed oil which is a popular ingredient in the beauty industry. The stalk can be used to make eco-friendly construction materials, bioplastics, and paper. However, the most valuable hemp-derived product is CBD.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid found in high concentrations in hemp plants. The production, sale, and use of CBD products are legal in the UK, yet the process of extracting the compound from the plant is not.

This is where things get complicated…

You have your license, your hemp variety has been approved, and your – now fully-grown – crop is legal. Want to use some seeds for hemp seed oil? The stalk for construction materials? Great! But what to do with those high-CBD leaves and flowers? Well, the only thing you’re allowed to do – destroy them.

CBD hemp extracts

That’s right – once the leaves and flowers have been separated from the rest of the plant, they once again become a controlled substance. This is true, regardless of the THC content in these plant components. The leaves and flowers are not permitted – by law – to leave the farm and most be destroyed on-site.

The Contradiction of CBD

CBD extracts are by far the most lucrative product that can be derived from hemp. However, British farmers are continuously locked out of this ever-growing market.

The UK CBD industry has boomed over the last few years – it is estimated that around 10% of the UK population have used CBD products. New businesses have been sprouting up like daisies, with no choice but to source CBD from outside the UK. This arrangement leaves both hemp farmers and the UK economy, out of pocket.

Reform for Change

There have been increasing calls for reform to UK hemp legislation in recent years, with both dedicated reform groups and the public demanding change. A 2019 YouGov survey found that up to 75% of the UK public believe that hemp farmers should be allowed to process their crops for the CBD industry.

Volteface plans to publish the Pleasant Lands report this August to present the government with valuable information about the industry. The report will draw on the expertise of a number of industry experts. It is hoped that the campaign will gain widespread support from the public and policymakers.

As calls for legislation reform get louder, we are outlining the current UK hemp legislation and what this means to the industry.