Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp: two different licences, same starting material. So, 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. The Differences
Essentially, the main differences between Medicinal Cannabis vs Hemp lie in the permissions and scope of the 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:
|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
You would think given the strictness of the regulations, that there would be huge barriers up between the medicinal cannabis vs hemp 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 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 is 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
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 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.
If you have any questions or would like a chat about medicinal cannabis cultivation or manufacture, please contact us here , or join us on one of our many 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