Hemp industry slipping back after successful start

The Czech Republic has had a small hemp industry for ten years now, since a new law acknowledged hemp as a technical and energy crop in 1999. Since then, technical hemp, that is cannabis which contains less than 0.3 percent THC, has made its way into a broad range of Czech-made products. It is used for making cosmetic products, briquettes, fabric, food and even hemp plastic.

Hemp is a traditional industrial plant which had been grown in this region for hundreds of years. It started to disappear in the 1920s due to a campaign against marihuana abuse, which spread to Europe from the United States. However, in the late 1990s, technical hemp was re-introduced to Czech fields and quickly took roots. But now, a decade later, Czech hemp producers seem to be back where they started.

Michal Ruman is the head of the Konopa civic association, which promotes the use of hemp as an industrial plan.

“There used to be big factories processing hemp. In 2006, for example, we had 1,700 hectares and we were fourth in Europe but this year, we only have 200 hectares, just like in 2000. The most important thing now is to focus on the processing technologies and help to develop a decentralised processing structure.

While hemp is being successfully used in the cosmetics industry and in the seed business, its wider use is still hampered by a lack of harvesting machines and centres for processing hemp straw. Czech farmers may also be discouraged by the extensive paperwork which is connected with hemp production:

“Hemp is grown in the same regime as poppy seeds. If you are a farmer, you have to send a special form to the authorities, where you explain what you are going to plant and what you are going to do with. In the end of the year you have to send a form saying how much you have harvested and what you did with the plants.”

The Konopa civic association has been also pushing Czech lawmakers to acknowledge hemp as a medicine and to allow the use of the flower, not just the straw. The use of cannabis is not prohibited in the Czech Republic. However, there is still no legal way to make the drug from hemp. Rick Simpson, a Canadian activist who has been travelling Europe promoting the use of hemp in medicine, believes the Czech Republic might be the first country in Europe to acknowledge the healing qualities of hemp.

“I honestly believe that the Czech Republic could give the rest of the world the medicine. People are very open-minded here and the history of the hemp plant is just amazing. So I have high hopes that it is going to happen here in the Czech Republic and if it does, you are going to set example to the rest of the world.”