Now it is understood EU ministers are considering similar changes to allow farmers to harvest the entire plant rather than the seeds and stalks which are used for hemp seed oil, textiles and building materials.
Environment minister Victoria Prentis said: “Defra will be commissioning a project on the potential use of under-utilised, underdeveloped or novel crops, including hemp. We are also considering the role of hemp in the bioeconomy and the opportunities this presents for UK farmers.”
Despite the fact they are not psychoactive, the leaves and flowers of hemp are “controlled” under the Misuse of Drugs Act. For this reason, hemp leaves can only be cultivated and harvested under a Home Office controlled drugs licence, which makes it uneconomic.
The calls for a change in the law are backed by senior Tory MPs Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader, former Transport Minister George Freeman and former Justice Minister Crispin Blunt.
Mr Freeman said: “(We have) a situation where we are in danger of missing out on a potentially enormous global industry.
“If we can get the regulatory framework right… where there is huge demand for medical cannabis and medical cannabinoid products, then we could start to grow more of that and supply that product here in the UK.
“We could have an industrial hemp industry that would be good for British farming and agriculture, we would not rely on imports so much to develop these products and that would be good for the balance of trade.”