Cultivation of Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp

Cultivation of Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp

Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp: two different licences, same starting material. What’s the difference? At first glance, it seems a little redundant to have two licences to process the same thing but dig a little deeper and important distinctions emerge.

1. Differences between cultivating Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp

Essentially, the main differences between Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp cultivation relate to the permissions and scope of the licenced activities, i.e. what you are actually allowed to do.

With the hemp licence, you can produce fibre and hemp seeds while with the medicinal cannabis licence(s) you can produce the flowers and extract the cannabinoids.

The requirements for the starting materials are also much stricter in hemp, favouring only low THC strains (<1%). The chemical content of the hemp crops is also verified through regulatory crop sampling and testing to ensure that the strains are compliant.

Note that cultivation for purposes other than those explicitly outlined in each licence is a criminal offence: you can’t use a hemp licence to generate medicinal cannabis products and you can’t use a medicinal cannabis licence to generate hemp products.

To help you navigate between the two, a summary of the differences is detailed in the table below:

Licence:HempMedicinal Cannabis
Regulatory Bodies:State-dependent (see section 2)
  • Office of Drug Control
  • State-dependent Poisons Licence
  • Therapeutic Goods Administration (if manufacturing)
Starting Materials:Low-THC strains (<1%)Any strain with any combination of cannabinoids
Products:Hemp fibre from the stem, hemp seeds, hemp seed oil.Harvested flowers, resins or extracts of whole flowers.
Use:Non-therapeutic purposes (e.g. clothes, cosmetics, food, etc.)Therapeutic purposes (i.e. medicines)

2. The Overlap between Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp

You would think given the strictness of the regulations governing medical cannabis production, there would be huge barriers up between the hemp and medicinal cannabis industries, however a convenient little loophole has emerged: depending on the state and the specific permissions of the individual hemp licences, it is possible for hemp growers to supply low THC seeds to medicinal cannabis cultivators.

Of course, this is also dependant on the desired strain. If the “target” compound is CBD (or any of the other hundred cannabinoids present in cannabis that aren’t THC), then sourcing low-THC seeds from local hemp cultivators is a very logical option and would greatly alleviate the additional time, cost and stress involved with importing seeds from overseas.

The hemp licence permissions (i.e. the ability to supply) for each state are summarised in the table below:

StateRegulatory bodyLicences of interest and permissions
NSWDepartment of Primary IndustriesLicence to cultivate and supply* low-THC hemp fibre and seed production for any one or more of the following purposes:
  • for commercial production,
  • for use in any manufacturing process,
  • for scientific research, instruction, analysis or study,
  • for any other purpose prescribed by the regulations.
*Note that in the licence application the “supply” aspect must also be selected.
QLDThe Department of Agriculture and FisheriesGrower licence: possess and supply industrial cannabis and produce industrial cannabis plants and seed from certified cannabis seed

Researcher licence 1: possess and supply industrial cannabis and class A and B research cannabis plants and seed

Researcher licence 2: possess and supply industrial cannabis and class B research cannabis plants and seed.

  • Class A: THC concentration in cannabis leaves and flowering heads of 3% or more
  • Class B: THC concentration in cannabis leaves and flowering heads of more than 1% but less than 3%.
    SAPrimary Industries and Regions SAPossession licence: Possess and store viable industrial hemp seed for supply purposes.

    Cultivation licence: Possess, cultivate, harvest and supply industrial hemp seed and other plant material (to a licence holder if within SA).
    TASDepartment of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and EnvironmentLicence to Supply: supply industrial hemp seed and other plant material.

    Licence to Cultivate: supply industrial hemp seed and other plant material for commercial purposes.

    Licence to Research: supply, cultivate and manufacture industrial hemp for research purposes.

    Combined licence: supply, cultivate or manufacture industrial hemp for research or commercial purposes.
    VICAgriculture Victoria
    • Authority relating to commercial use*
    • Authority relating to research purposes*
    For any of the sections below:
    • Possess, process, sell or supply cannabis seed which has been harvested from low THC cannabis
    • Cultivate and possess cannabis from seed which has been harvested from low-THC cannabis*
    • Possess, process, sell or supply cannabis which is substantially free of leaves and flowering heads and DOES NOT contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in excess of 0.1 per cent.
    • *Note that in the individual licence application, “supply” must also be selected.
    WAThe Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development• Cultivate industrial hemp

    • Harvest industrial hemp

    Cultivate, harvest and supply hemp products (including seeds) to appropriately licenced third parties.

    Note: Processing licences have been left out, as they give permission to manufacture the initial hemp products (i.e. fibre and seed) for other industrial purposes and are beyond the scope of this blog.

    3. The Fine Details

    If obtaining low THC seeds from Australian industrial hemp growers, bear in mind that the ODC will check the original hemp cultivator’s licence to ensure that they are also approved for supply – make sure you check this in advance before it’s highlighted in a 14J! If the hemp cultivator does not have the appropriate permissions, then, unfortunately, it’s a no go.

    Before you set up a supply chain with your approved vendor, you may also want to ensure you obtain:
    • a crop analysis certificate for the seed/strain of interest to clarify its chemical composition, and
    • a recent germination test (within 6 months).

    The viability of hemp seeds can decrease rapidly so, to avoid a dud crop, it’s good to check how long you can store a seed after purchase.

    Want more?

    If you would like to read more about medicinal cannabis, the following blogs may also interest you: