Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp: What’s the difference? Two different licences, but same starting material. At first glance, it may seem redundant to have two licences to process the same herbal medicine plant; but dig a little deeper, and important distinctions between hemp and medicinal cannabis emerge. Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes.
1. Cultivating Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp (Differences)
What are the differences between growing medicinal cannabis vs hemp plants?
Essentially, the main differences between Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp cultivation and production relate to the permissions and scope of a cannabis-licenced organisation’s activities. In other words, the difference in licencing restricts what you are actually allowed to do when growing these different types or strains of cannabis and hemp.
- With a licence to grow hemp, you can produce fibre and hemp seeds
- With a 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 cannabis 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:
|Regulatory Bodies:||State-dependent (see section 2)|
|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 Hemp and Medicinal Cannabis: Seeds
You would think given the strictness of the regulations governing medical cannabis production, that there would be significant barriers between the medicinal cannabis vs hemp growing industries. However, it appears a convenient minor loophole has emerged.
Hemp Seeds for Medicinal Cannabis depend on the desired strain
- Depending on the state and specific permissions of individual hemp licences, it may be possible for hemp growers to supply low THC seeds to medicinal cannabis cultivators.
- Of course, this is also dependent 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:
|State||Regulatory body||Licences of interest and permissions|
|NSW||Department of Primary Industries||Licence to cultivate and supply* low-THC hemp fibre and seed production for any one or more of the following purposes:|
|QLD||The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries||Grower 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.
|SA||Primary Industries and Regions SA||Possession 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).
|TAS||Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment||Licence 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.
|WA||The 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 of Hemp Growing vs Cannabis Legalities
Legal obligations and regulations are very strict about seed supply sources for licenced cannabis producers.
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 confirm 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 cannabis seed 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. To avoid a dud crop, it’s good to check how long you can store a seed after purchase.
More information about regulations, GMP and medical cannabis production requirements
If you have any questions or would like a chat about medicinal cannabis cultivation or manufacture, please contact us. You are also welcome to join us on one of our many public GMP training courses on GMP and Medicinal Cannabis cultivation, or a medicinal cannabis conference.
If you would like to read more about medicinal cannabis, the following blogs may also interest you:
Cannabis seed to sale software – the caveats and CFR Part 11 clashes
TGA GMP Manufacturing licence for medicinal cannabis
Concept design for Medicinal Cannabis Facility – Case study
What to look for in a GMP cannabis consultant