Hemp operators in Portugal frustrated by questionable rules

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Portuguese hemp stakeholders say rules in a new law covering medical cannabis and hemp put undue burdens on the industry and are calling for key changes.

While the government recently removed a requirement that hemp farmers must employ a technical manager, questions remain about the distribution of EU certified seeds and related costs, a rule that producers must report highly detailed data on their hemp operations to the Directorate-General for Food and Veterinary (DGAV), and questions over which parts of the plant may be used.

The law, which covers licensing for the cultivation, manufacture, wholesale trade, transport, distribution, import and export of cannabis-based substances for medical and industrial uses, was published in the official government diary in mid-April.

Deaf to farmers

Industry representatives said the government failed to consider the concerns of hemp stakeholders despite their many efforts to help shape reasonable rules for the industry. “It shows a tremendous lack of respect” for farmers, João Costa, vice president of CannaCasa, the Portuguese hemp association, told the Sabado website. Costa accused the government of “deliberately not applying” EU legislation.

The now-canceled requirement that hemp operators hire technical managers was a spillover regulation from rules for medical cannabis, which is also covered by the recently enacted law. While the government realized its mistake and rectified the situation, stakeholders say a regulatory path for farmers and producers is still not clear due to confusion with the medical cannabis rules.

“There is a deep gap in the vision of the entities regarding the cultivation of hemp due to the legal confusion that was created with the approval of cannabis for medicinal purposes”, Costa said.

Critical seed matters

A key concern is how the country’s hemp rules treat the matter of certified seeds. Producers say the government has unrealistic expectations of seed certification systems across EU nations, not all of which treat certification of hemp varieties in the same manner.

While France and Italy have national certification schemes for their locally produced cultivation seed, in addition to holding listings in the EU seed catalog, not all countries have such national certification programs.

Under Portuguese rules as now written, both national and EU certifications are needed for cultivation seed imported into Portugal. That means Portuguese hemp farmers are technically blocked from planting hemp varieties from member states that do not have national certification bodies, despite the fact that seeds from those countries are EU certified. Hemp producers also take issue with a regulalion that would require farmers to pay any costs related to laboratory analysis for THC control.

Plant parts undefined

Stakeholders also say the rules fail to properly sort out the parts of the hemp plant. While the regulatory language specifically mentions seeds and hemp stalks, it fails to explicitly mention whole-plant biomass and flowers. “It leaves a wide gap for interpretation,” said Humberto Nogueira, vice president of ACCIP, the Industrial Hemp Trade Association of Portugal. “It doesn’t specifically recognize whole plant can be sold.”

Also of concern, requirements for identification of farm fields under the rules go against guidance from DGAV, which administers the hemp side of Portugal’s hemp program. While DGAV has only required an address and geographic location for hemp fields, rules under the new law mean farmers must track and report on plant development, indicate quantities to be sown and harveted by variety, identify buyers of their crop, and give locations of storage facilities –– all requirements imported from the medical cannabis licensing process.

For farmers, the troublesome rules bring “requirements for the cultivation of cannabis for industrial purposes that is unparalleled in Europe and that absolutely diminishes the attractiveness of the crop,” Costa said.

READ: Portugal’s law on cannabis-based substances for medical and industrial uses

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